Guest blogger Richard Mulcahy has a shady plot in Co. Antrim and writes here about his allotment and growing early rhubarb.
In the winter months, I get a chance to think and reflect upon my plot. Leaning on the allotment fence today, I thought back two years to when I first got the plot.
When I took on my allotment there were two thoughts in my mind:
Number 1: I really, really want an allotment.
Number 2: This plot is quite shady.
I decided that a shady plot is better than none. (I had been on the waiting list for over five years).
My plot is about half of the size of a traditional plot and is almost perfectly square.
Immediately to the south and east is a tall bank of trees. Thanks to these trees, a good portion of the plot is quite dull, especially in late spring.
It wasn’t quite as bad as I thought – the plot is wide open to the west and gets some fairly decent light (and maybe more importantly heat). Also, once spring turns into summer, the sun is high enough in the sky to light up a good half of the plot.
So, over the last two years I have been experimenting with some plants that will grow in shade or near shady conditions.
In the shadiest part I decided, eventually, to grow comfrey and rhubarb. Rhubarb is very easy to grow and seems quite happy to grow in the shade. Amazingly, as I write this on New Year’s Day, there are some stalks pushing up already.
I have two varieties of rhubarb growing there – mainly because I was interested to see if there was any difference in taste, but also to spread the harvest a little.
I have always found rhubarb easy to grow. I just follow the common sense guidance.
- Plant the crown in a nice mixture of compost, feed and soil to give it a good start.
- Leave it alone for at least a year and avoid all temptation to pull a stalk or two. After that the rest is easy peasy. Feed the crown once a year with manure or compost or whatever you have. I even throw the huge leaves back around the plant sometimes and let them rot down over time.
I also got my hands on some comfrey root. It is meant to be the non-flowering sterile Bocking 14 variety, although one plant definitely flowered this year. I presume it did not set seed.
The comfrey has done fine in the shadiest spot and will provide superb fodder for the compost heap. I am confident to have about ten healthy comfrey plants this year. I put in the roots last year – they took quite slowly and the slugs didn’t even leave them alone… But I believe what I am told – that once established the comfrey will become a sturdy and incredibly useful addition to an otherwise difficult part of the plot.
Another green manure that did fine in the shade was Phacelia – easily grown by broadcasting the seed into a prepared bed. The resulting plants are simply cut and dug in as a soil improver. They also have quite pretty flowers if allowed to bloom. Mentioning blooms – I put a row of Lupins along the back fence. Again, very happy in the shade!
So, as I leant on the fence in the winter rain, I realised that one thing I definitely learnt about my plot was to work with the ground that you have. Finding plants that like your conditions is half the battle and half the joy!
You can read my blog here: allotmentireland.weebly.com