IT'S THE WEEKEND: Grow It - Meet our new allotment blogger

South Wales Argus: WINTER TIME: A robin near the bird feeder. WINTER TIME: A robin near the bird feeder.

HERE is the first installment from our new allotment columnist Sean O’Dobhain, who has been tending his Cwmbran plot since 2007.

A teacher by trade, he says he enjoys the seasonal challenge of growing decent fruit and vegetables as there’s always something new to learn and the weather to contend with.

Read his regular gardening updates at allotmentnotebook.blogspot.co.uk

IT IS January, garden centres and retailers have cleared the aisles of Christmas decorations and are restocking them with seeds, plants and garden tools. For the plot holder, it's an opportunity to do a bit of shopping, an antidote to the winter blues.

This month you can purchase your potatoes and set them out in seed trays to 'chit'. Chitting encourages the potato stalks to start growing before they are planted out in early spring. Chitting benefits all potatoes but especially the ‘first’ and ‘second’ early varieties.

After buying your seed potatoes, look at each carefully and place them with the ‘rose’ end, or 'eyes', upward in the tray. Some may already have shoots developing, others might not, so check them regularly just in case a few have been placed upside down! Egg boxes are handy if you have them but seed trays are fine. Place the chitting potatoes in a light, cool but frost free place until planting time.

This year I'm growing the 'first early' potato 'Rocket', I’m hoping to harvest them around the middle of June so I can use the same ground to grow winter squash. Rocket are well named, producing lovely new potatoes in as little as 10 weeks. I need to plant them by the last week of March (weather permitting!) to get a good 10-12 weeks in the ground.

Other quick first early varieties you might consider are ‘Foremost’ and ‘Swift’ as well as the old favourites, ‘Pentland Javelin’ and ‘Arran Pilot’. Personally I don’t bother with second early potatoes but if you do, then I’ve heard ‘Charlotte’, ‘Anya’ and ‘International Kidney’ (aka Jersey Royal) are worth planting.

My main crop potato this season will be 'Sarpo Mira' - a variety I have never grown before. These pink skinned potatoes are the first of the 'Sarpo' blight resistant varieties. The foliage of ‘Sarpo Mira’ doesn’t need to be cut down in late summer to stop the blight spores spoiling the tubers. The plants get the chance to grow on longer, forming larger potatoes. However, if you want to stick with the tried and tested varieties then the usual main crop potatoes like ‘Maris Piper’, ‘King Edward’ and ‘Desirée’ are on the shelves now.

Allotment jobs for January:

- Plan where and what you want to grow on the plot this season – remembering to rotate your crops to avoid potential pests and diseases in the soil.

- Go through your seed stocks and list what you need to buy; discard old seeds as germination rates will often be poor.

- Buy onion and shallot ‘sets’ ready for March planting; you can get a few to root in modules under glass or on a windowsill for an earlier start.

- Continue to pick winter veg from the plot like leeks, cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, kale, turnip, swede and parsnip. If you don’t have any of these on your plot then add them to your planting plan for this season!

- Check on any stored veg like onions, carrots, squash and potatoes, discard any that don’t look fit to eat. Same for stored fruit.

- Dig up and divide rhubarb crowns. Split them with a spade ensuring that each section has roots and buds, replant in a new position to the same level with a mulch of well rotted manure or compost.

- Check for damage to structures on the plot due to winter weather, secure them until they can be repaired properly.

- Continue to top-up feeders as birds will help keep down pests come the growing season.

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