The dormant winter season is a great time to ponder the crops we will be growing in the year ahead.
After a few years growing a wide range of normal fruit, flowers and vegetables most gardeners like to try something a wee bit different as we all like a challenge.
Our allotment plots are not just areas to produce crops, as every time we get a bumper harvest someone will want to know what variety we are using and how did you grow it.
It could be a few rows of large onions, several massive pumpkins or a great crop of saskatoons.
They all become talking points and add to the social life on the allotment as there is always someone putting the kettle on and another pops into our communal hut with a few home made cakes.
Looking back over the years my interest was always strongest with fruit.
In the early fifties, as a wee laddie, I got introduced to raspberry picking on our local farm on the edge of St. Marys.
Then in my early teens on my first allotment at Stirling Park on the Law hill I grew a row of Baldwin blackcurrants.
A few years later at the Scottish Crops Research Institute where I studied weed control, one of the farm gardeners taught me how to graft apples.
As my gardening career took me south I got a job on a fruit farm in Pulborough in West Sussex growing blackcurrants, strawberries and apples.
As I moved around the UK my garden was always used to experiment with fruit crops from growing early strawberries under tunnels, growing blueberries from seed and I continued to graft apples.
My garden was not big so I needed to graft a few varieties on the same tree to give me early, mid season and late crops as well as a cooker, which was usually Bramley.
However I am now back in Dundee with a fair sized garden and a decent allotment where I can indulge in my passion for growing fruit.
I now have an apple tree with six different varieties on it and a pear with five different varieties, and every year I find someone with a cracking variety I hadn’t seen before so I acquire some shoots for grafting in the spring, but I keep my Bramley tree separate.
Breeders and nurseries have been busy and now you can get an upright apple, Starline Firedance perfect for small spaces and there is a wide range of stepover apples which form a low hedge with pruning.
I tried growing a peach outdoors but with no success due to peach leaf curl disease, but outdoor cherry Cherokee is fine.
It gets blackfly, but just give it a spray and the birds are not such a problem as the fruits are so big the blackbirds just leave them alone.
Growing strawberries in summer is very easy, but the challenge is to grow a few out of season, so I use an early variety, Mae or Christine and put it under a low polythene tunnel to crop from mid May onwards.
The season is also extended with autumn fruiting Flamenco though the rains in 2019 wiped out most of the crop.
For something different try a few Saskatoon fruit bushes or the chokeberry, Aronia Viking with black fruit extremely high in antioxidants.
Figs are another very impressive crop that seems to love growing outdoors in Scotland.
They are very east to grow and crop for over a couple of months.
Eat them fresh, but when crops are heavy they make an excellent jam and chutney.
Outdoor grapes can vary. Brant has never let me down, but last year Rondo and Regent just rotted in the wet weather.
However they were great the previous year when we got a great summer.
I will still keep them just in case better summers return.
To grow successfully though, you need continual summer pruning of young shoots so the plant puts all its energy into producing large grapes.
Pumpkins are always a great challenge to get big fruits that ripen up to a brilliant orange colour, but select a good variety and keep the plants fed and watered if the season lacks rainfall.
Wee jobs for the week
Keep bird tables topped up with seed, and clean tables and feeders regularly. On frosty mornings, replace frozen water dishes with fresh warm water.
I no longer put out bread for the birds as it encourages pigeons and seagulls which are very messy.