I started out with a plan to set aside some space for some permanent beds (for strawberries, herbs, a longer term asparagus project, rhubarb, soft fruit etc.) and five zones to separate and rotate crops grown each year - potatoes; alliums (onions, leeks, garlic); brassicas (broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts); beans (dwarf french, french climbing and runners); and pumpkins and squashes. Whilst the permanent beds are in the process of construction or preparation in ready for 2012 use, the other beds were put to full use.
Potatoes: as soon as I cleared the weeds and uncovered some bare ground I planted potatoes, whilst these were tasty (especially the Anya variety) the yield was somewhat disappointing which I attribute to a lack of nutrition and the unusually dry conditions in Spring/Summer 2011. Whilst I can't change the weather or water to any great extent, I have now secured a manure supplier (a friend's daughters have a pony stabled nearby) so hope to improve this year.
Alliums: I planted some onions sets and a short row of leeks (a surplus from a neighbour's plot) which although quite small, matured in the short space of time and produced a modest supply of edible bulbs. Due to the time spent clearing the ground these were planted later (May) than would have been preferred.
Brassicas: these suffered from drought and pest attack during the summer (flea beetle and whitefly especially) but had established by the autumn and then have flourished through the winter so far producing well. I want to avoid using chemicals so when things were really bad I tried to battle the pests using a diluted solution of boiled rhubarb leaf , quite sparingly, which seemed to assist the beneficial ladybird population in keeping the pest numbers down. It could have been my imagination but pleasingly, the ladybird population seemed to increase greatly during the summer.
Beans: these seemed the easiest to grow and produced the greatest yield. Whilst the broad beans were quite slim pickings (again due to a lack of moisture and late planting) french beans and runners were much more prolific and I still have some of these in the freezer. Introducing organic matter and earlier sowings will hopefully improve the broad bean situation this year as I've developed a new liking for these since eating some picked young and eaten fresh.
Pumpkins and squashes: by the time summer arrived I had prepared my ground and established my domestic arrangements (including shed and water butts) so was able to meet the growing season for these crops according to convention. Three butternut squash plants produced six fruits each (a few of which are still in store in my garage); six plants produced a mountain of courgettes (too many to keep up with); and a self set marrow plant adopted from my neighbour provided a few marrows to experiment with in the kitchen (stuffed, marrow & ginger jam) and some seeds for next year. My attempt at a giant pumpkin was a bit of fun and my main learning point about this was to take stricter control of the plant - by constantly removing the competing juvenile fruit and restricting the growth of side shoots to ensure everything goes into the main pumpkin.
I grew other crops, in an around those above, where space became available: parsnips took a while to get germinating but despite some problems I've had a modest supply so far this winter; beetroot proved an easy and bountiful crop to grow; and my carrots were plentiful but somewhat ruined by carrot root fly. For carrots I am developing plans for resistant varieties, netting or growing at altitude (above 2-3 feet, the flying height of the carrot fly by popular consensus - we shall see).
A big surprise was the local horticultural society show in September. I looked at the schedule and was able to enter in 17 categories. This resulted in five firsts, four seconds and three thirds...totalling 26 points! The winning grower (my allotment neighbour 'Brush') achieved 28 points so the challenge for the coming year has been set. My five successes were a butternut squash, 3 little gem lettuces, sweet peas (grown among my beans), cherry tomatoes (from the greenhouse at home) and the longest carrot (grown as an experiment in a spare piece of drain pipe).
The combination of spending time outside and being rewarded with some great food meant that I enjoyed my first allotment season as much as I anticipated. The enthusiasm I started with has not diminished and I can't wait to get on with the next one. My greenhouse has been cleaned and cleared and is ready to accept my first sowings...more on that later.
Thanks for reading, Adam.