Grow Your Own sessions in Trumpington

A GYO session in March 2018

Experienced allotmenteer Dave Fox will explain what's happening on his allotment as the growing season progresses. Get stuck in as we sow, nurture, harvest and eat. Please share your ideas too. And frankly Dave wants your practical help because illness is slowing him down these days.

Get in touch.

Next session

None planned at present, sorry.

Please see the events list for further sessions.


Sessions are limited to six people on a first come, first served basis. There is no charge. Please contact me to confirm your attendance. Note: If the weather forecast is very wet, please get in touch on the evening beforehand and we will reschedule.

What to bring

Come dressed suitably for the weather and expect to get your hands dirty! It can be cold and windy on the exposed allotment site so please wear appropriate clothing. Stout boots or wellies are the best choice of footwear. Tools and gardening gloves will be provided.

Bring your idea or question

If you would like us to cover something specific, please tell Dave in advance.


Please follow these directions to Foster Road allotments, Trumpington. NB Trumpington now has no less than 5 allotment sites (6 if you include Empty Common). Come to Foster Road!

GYO on the radio

Listen to my occasional slots with Alan Alder on Cambridge105's Flavour programme

Future sessions

Please subscribe to the fortnightly bulletin for confirmation of dates and more details of further sessions.

GYO Diary 2020

1st March

  • Look at the composting system, dig out some finished compost and feed asaparagus bed with it.
  • Hoeing for weed control: straight rows, and grid planting.
  • Sow early potatoes and broad beans.
  • Clear old crops & use miller tool to prepare seed bed
  • Harvest broccoli, leeks & chard.
  • A quick look at pruning an apple tree

Harvesting leeks

GYO Diary 2019

late February

  • Prepare seed beds, then sow parsnip (intersown with radish), peas and broad beans
  • Weeding
  • Pruning fruit trees and bush in the forest garden
  • tour of the Polytunnel and apiary
  • Harvest salads, chard, white sprouting broccoli and Brussels sprouts

Pruning an apple tree

GYO Diary 2018

late May

  • Prepare seed beds, then plant and sow various crops
  • Weeding
  • Look round the forest garden and the Polytunnel
  • Harvest rhubarb, herbs, onion, salads, early broad beans and asparagus

A small group for the last session of this season

early April

  • Remove mulch to reveal fertile seed bed
  • Prepare beds using stale seed bed technique, allowing time for weeds to germinate before sowing crops
  • Sow early potatoes in trench with manure & compost
  • Sow beetroot
  • Look round the forest garden and a couple of other plots

Sowing beetroot


  • Remove mulch to reveal fertile seed bed
  • Prepare beds using stale seed bed technique, allowing time for weeds to germinate before sowing crops
  • Sow potatoes, onions and broad beans.
  • Weeding
  • Look round the community polytunnel, the apiary and a couple of other plots

Sowing onion sets

GYO Diary 2017


  • dig Pink Fir Apple potatoes
  • cut mustard green manure and sow onions
  • harvest Borlotti beans that we sowed in May
  • sow broad beans


  • Thanks to everyone who came
  • Harvested new potatoes, elephant garlic, courgettes, cucumbers and fruit.
  • Planted leeks
  • Weeded in the forest garden and tended the fruit trees.

Harvesting Elephant garlic


  • Thanks to everyone who came
  • Planted the last potatoes
  • Weeded the forest garden
  • Sowed Borlotti beans and built support for them with hazel beanpoles from Hardwick Wood.

Building support for Borlotti beans using hazel poles from Hardwick Wood.


  • Thanks to everyone who came
  • Planted maincrop potatoes
  • Took a look at Clare's new plot
  • Made a deep mulch bed over an old fire pit
  • Harvested
  • We also weeded in the forest garden where perennials require less inputs than annual crop plants.

The group on 8th April.


  • Thanks to everyone who came
  • Sowed early potatoes
  • Did lots of weeding
  • Harvested broccoli, chard, leeks and parsnips
  • Walked round the forest garden
  • Discussed various green manures including comfrey and field beans (the ones with the root nodules containing nitrogen).
  • Ceri showed us her plots with various mulching techniques, also the community polytunnel and apiary.
  • More photos here.

Sowing early potatoes.

Dates for 2016 & 2015

No GYO sessions were held because I was very poorly. Getting better now

GYO Diary 2014


  • Sow shallots.
  • Hoe to weed onions planted 3 weeks ago.
  • Investigate deep mulch bed, and mix it with fresh green stuff as it was very dry at the bottom.
  • Prune a blackcurrant bush (remove old and weak branches).
  • Prune a gooseberry bush (trim new growth, establish goblet shape).
  • Pick the medlars & harvest a salad of lettuce, chicory & rocket.

Harvesting salad.

Late April

  • Sow parsnips intersown with radish.
  • Harvest radishes from an earlier sowing, revealing the parsnip seedlings.
  • Remove some deep mulch and sow potatoes.
  • Mulch paths in the forest garden.
  • Take a look round the chicken plot.

Mulch destined for the forest garden.

Early April

  • Clear some of the self-seeded larkspur :( and sow lettuce :)
  • Weed broad beans by hand.
  • Weed new parsnips, chard & winter onions by hoeing.
  • Dig leeks and old parsnips.
  • Tour the community polytunnel and sow a box of early carrots.
  • Take a look at the apiary.

Digging parsnips


  • Prune new and established top fruit (again guided by Charlotte).
  • Prepare beds for sowing parsnips and chard.
  • Weed and hoe beds and paths
  • Mulch a large bed ready for planting sweetcorn seedlings later in the season
  • Harvest Brussels sprouts and kale

Preparing to prune a two-year old apple tree

GYO Diary 2013


  • Harvested climbing beans and cleared these to make space for the next crop
  • Sowed "Meteor" over-wintering early peas
  • Ate some delicious raspberries, harvested spinach, chard and pears
  • Planted "Durham Early" spring cabbage seedlings, making space amongst celeriac by harvesting some and removing lower leaves from others
  • Sowed over-wintering onion sets (red and white types) and garlic
  • A quick look at the forest garden

Harvesting and clearing climbing beans

Mature celeriac interplanted with spring cabbage seedlings


  • Visited the polytunnel to taste tomatoes and cucumbers
  • Cleared blighted outdoor tomatoes
  • Collected seed (calendula marigold, French beans, coriander, parsnip)
  • Sowed parsnips and Hamburg parsley
  • Sowed ground cover (beet family, land cress, lambs lettuce) in the forest garden
  • Weeded leeks
  • Ate some delicious raspberries
  • Forgot to take photos


  • Sow polyveg (measuring and recording the amount of each type of seed this time!)
  • Weeding in the forest garden
  • Plant tomatoes in pots and growbags
  • Preparing another bed ready for sowing
  • Quick tour of the community polytunnel
  • Forgot to take photos


  • Plant potatoes
  • Dig weedy beds ready for beetroot & peas
  • Sow chard
  • Quick tour of the community polytunnel

Sowing chard


  • Weed control by hoeing
  • Prepare beds for crops to be sown later
  • Rake off mulch and sow parsnips intersown with radish as marker
  • Rake off mulch and sow potatoes. Put mulch back to protect tubers from frost.
  • Formative pruning of young apple tree
  • Restorative pruning of pear tree damaged when the heavy 2011 crop broke its branches
  • Pruning blackcurrant bush by removing old stems
  • Pruning gooseberry bush by removing crossing branches and trimming new growth

Pruning pear tree

GYO Diary 2012


  • Check progress of the polyveg, mulch beds and forest garden
  • Clear summer crops and harvest the pumpkins and marrows
  • Tend brassicas
  • Sow overwintering onions
  • Lots of weeding

Harvest of marrows and winter squash


  • Check progress of the polyveg, mulch beds and forest garden
  • Tending tomatoes and curcubits
  • Prepare for some autumn sowings
  • Lots of weeding
  • Lots of harvesting (bring a bag!)

Harvesting potatoes


  • Tending outdoor tomatoes and curcubits
  • Tending crops of carrot, parsnip and beetroot
  • Checking the progress of polyveg and mulch beds created during April's Permaculture Gardening Course
  • Maintenance mulching in the forest garden
  • A look round the community polytunnel

Adding mulch in the Forest Garden


  • Weeding and mulching in the forest garden
  • Planting outdoor tomatoes
  • Checking the progress of polyveg and mulch beds created during last month's Permaculture Gardening Course
  • Sowing Borlotti beans and building a support for them to climb
  • Harvesting (and eating!) salad

Planting tomatoes


  • Mulching the forest garden some more
  • Harvesting Brussels sprouts

Moving leafmould to the Forest Garden


  • Mulching the forest garden
  • Planting apple & pear trees, and fruit bushes
  • Pruning established fruit bushes
  • Harvesting celeriac, carrots, spinach, leeks
  • Planting strawberries
  • Building a raised bed

Planting fruit trees

GYO Diary 2011


  • Weed control - hoe and mulch
  • Sowing broad beans
  • Feeding broccoli with wood ash
  • Tidying up - but not too much!
  • Sowing winter onion sets
  • Harvesting late maincrop potatoes

Sowing broad beans


  • Care of tomato plants
  • Harvest potatoes and french beans
  • after a short break...
  • Preparing new strawberry bed
  • Care of brassica crops

Prizewinning veg at the Cambridge Food, Garden and Produce Festival, Sept 17/18 2011

We cut the comfrey for the last time this year, adding the leaves to the mulch beds and a large bin to make liquid feed. We could cut and use the leaves yet again in a month or so, but the plants will grow stronger and earlier next season if we allow them to regrow then die back naturally. Let's not be too greedy.

The mulch beds have proved to be a real labour-saver! Composting in-situ requires much less barrowing of weeds back and forth to a compost bin. The only real disadvantage seems to be that slugs and snails love the mulch - it's cooler and moister. Trying to regard this problem as a solution, I've found that it's now easy to locate those pesky molluscs during a midnight hunt.

The 'Bedfordshire Prize' cucumbers are growing well, trained up canes to save space and keep the fruit off the ground. Ceri brought several more varieties of cucumber to show us.

Four varieties of cucumber

We tied up the cordon (indeterminate) tomato plants, and saw the difference between these and bush (determine) varieties. There are pros and cons of the two types. Cordon tomatoes require much care (staking, removal of side shoots, and eventually removal of the growing tip) but they yield clean fruit with no pest damage. Bush tomatoes need little care and crop early, but the ripening fruit tends to suffer in damp weather, from slugs, snails and soil-splash.

We dug lots of potatoes. Picasso look great but Marfona are scabby this year: I've never seen it so bad. I did not use manure at planting time (I'm scared of a repeat of the aminopyralid weedkiller contamination) which would have increased acidity and reduced scab. What else could we use to create a more acid growing environment for the spuds?

We weeded a bed of Brussels sprouts, which hopefully will form part of Christmas dinner.

Weeding the Brussels sprouts


We cut comfrey green manure, station-sowed fennel with radish between to mark the rows, and dug some potatoes.


We looked at examples of succession cropping: calabrese seedlings planted in the gaps amongst over-wintered onions, and tomatoes and peppers planted amongst maturing spring cabbages. This technique saves space and confuses pests. Lettuces planted amongst strawberries did not fare so well, possibly I got the timing wrong.

I have plenty of green leaf coriander this year, without sowing any - it self-seeded over the last two years. I also have Swiss chard which sowed itself, slightly inconveniently, amongst the maincrop onions. I'm harvesting chard leaves frequently to stop them shading the onions. Overall, a relaxed attitude to seeding crop plants is yielding plenty of freebies! It helps to be able to identify the seedlings of course.

We hoed between the rows of potatoes and earthed them up. Unusually the hard frost in mid-May destroyed four potato plants in one bed, the seed tuber having completely rotted away. The other potatoes are OK though: the foliage was lost, but the tubers underground are sound with good root growth and new leaves are already growing well, so there'll be a crop. There's a lot of energy stored in a seed potato tuber.

'Lazy' gardeners who planted their potatoes later and missed that frost may get an earlier/larger crop. There is no justice.

We replaced the lost potatoes with early bush tomatoes, another solanum for rotation purposes. We'll see how that works out: I've never needed to fill in gaps in my rows of potatoes before!

We took a look at Fiona's plot, a quarter-sized allotment itself neatly divided into four beds. See photo.

Lastly we took a quick look in the (rather warm) community polytunnel. Early carrots have been the best crop so far. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and aubergines are all growing well, but I'm concerned at the lack of pollinating insects. I'm growing flowers in pots to position near the polytunnel doors, hoping that will attract the bees inside.

Fiona's plot

Late April

We planted "Pink Fir Apple" potatoes. Ordinarily we'd add comfrey leaves, but all of this useful green manure was cut and used during the permaculture course practical session last weekend. It will grow back very quickly though.

Then we made a sheet mulch on an area about 4 metres square using layers (from the bottom upwards) of compost, cardboard x 3, soil conditioner, and dry weeds. My intention was to suppress weed growth and add fertility, with a view to planting next year, but we planted a row of potatoes direct into the mulch immediately to see how this works out. 3 layers of dry cardboard is pretty tough to cut through - use a suitable tool when trying this again!

We also sowed dwarf french beans in a new bed, and took a look at established crops of lettuce, strawberries and parnips.

Some of the over-wintered onions look poorly with some drooping, yellowing leaves: I suspect white-rot, having had much trouble with this over the years, but on inspecting the roots of one plant there's no direct evidence yet. I've got an anti white-rot experiment ongoing: an infected bed has been carefully watered with 'soup' made from unused leeks, hoping to fool the spores into germinating in the absence of any live host allium plant.

In the community polytunnel we planted out aubergines and sweet peppers in grow-bags.

Potato planting

Early April

We saw that the earlier sowings or parsnip, radish and lettuce have germinated.

We then sowed beetroot, carrot & onion sets.

We also fed the top fruit (pears, medlar, quince) by spreading two natural fertilisers around the base of the trunks. First wood ash, saved dry under an impermeable sheet after a winter bonfire, was added for its soluble potassium content which is needed for flowering and fruiting. Then well-rotted pony manure was added, a general fertiliser which also helps to retain moisture.

After a break we had a look round the community polytunnel, and planted the first tomatoes.

Sowing onion sets and carrot seed


We discussed whether to dig or not to dig - this allotment is being converted to no-dig beds after a decade or so of back-breaking digging! We had a look at the compost bins which I'm rebuilding behind the shed. The compost heap will be smaller because most weeds are now used to mulch (cover) the narrow beds. Mulching conserves nutrients in the soil while inhibiting further weed growth, plus it eliminates the need to move the weeds to the composting area - now I just throw them on the nearest mulch bed. Easy!

We discussed autumn and summer raspberries, and pruned back an old bed of 'Autumn Bliss' which is just showing signs of new growth (ideally this job would have been done a month earlier).

We sowed a bed with alternating blocks of red and green lettuce - hopefully that will be pretty and productive. As these early lettuces are harvested during May and June, I intend to interplant with courgettes or squash.

Another bed was sown with parsnips with radishes intersown: the fast-growing radishes will mark the location of the slow-germinating parsnips, as well as providing a useful mini-crop themselves. In the neighbouring bed all the old parsnips were harvested. These biennials want to make seed in the second year, so they develop a hard core as they convert sugars to lignin (thanks Helen!) and build their flower spike. Therefore parsnips are less sweet at this time of year, but are still usable if you quarter them and cut out the core before cooking.

That bed was immediately planted up with 'Lady Crystl' early salad potatoes which had been carefully chitted, rose-end upwards in egg trays by the window of the outhouse.

My new rotation plan is taking shape: potatoes follow parsnips, which are preceded by lettuce/curcubits. The permanent narrow bed system allows different crop types to be grown in close proximity, in contrast to the traditional 3- or 4-way rotation of large blocks of crop types. We'll see how well that works out...

Pruning autumn raspberries and cutting up the stems for composting

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