In the beginning was the worm
I’ve decided to keep a diary of my work on the allotment. I’ll do this so I can keep track of what I have done, so other people can see what to do and what not to do and to offer help to others (if they want it). It makes a note of what I have grown, what has worked and what fails.
I’m not really growing this as an experiment, this is food that I grow for the benefit of my family, because I enjoy the taste of properly grown fresh vegetables, because I know it’s organic and fresh, and finally because it saves me some money (we are in Yorkshire after all).
It’s located in North Yorkshire. The allotment site itself is on a hill with houses at the same level to the west and north, and fields at a lower level to the east and south. The border to two sides is hedgerow and to the other two sides is fence. Being on a high point it does get a lot of wind across it. The site slopes slightly as well, not a great deal but noticeable. There were originally 10 plots on the allotment but recently 4 of them have been split in half to create smaller plots. The soil itself is quite stoney, with good moisture retention but also very good drainage.
The site itself has water supplied (from a standpipe) with some kind soul providing a hosepipe as well. Unfortunately it doesn’t do all my allotment so I have an extension to it in my shed. Sprinklers are not allowed on the site. Neither is livestock.
My particular plot runs predominantly East – West. It measures 200 sq metres (or 8 poles in old money) and costs me £33.75 for the year. It’s an end plot on the allotment site itself, so is bordered on 2 sides by hedges. My plot is among those at the highest point of the site so drains quicker than most.
I’ve divided my plot up into 2 ‘areas’. The first is fruit area, and in this I have a small raised bed for my strawberry plants, then my 3 gooseberry bushes, my 5 blackcurrant bushes, my 10 raspberry canes and also 2 small apple trees. These are all bordered by weed membrane and gravel to keep the weeds down and save me time. This is about 8 feet wide and runs for two thirds of the length of the plot. Below this is the compost bins and a glasshouse.
The second area is the rest of it, with a small area removed to have an asparagus bed.
As you can see from the drawing I’ve also got a lovely rickety shed at the top of the plot that has the usual paraphernalia in it, garden tools, canes of various sizes, half a bale of straw, spare panes of glass, greenhouse clips, a wind-up radio and various other things I have kept. Around the side of the shed the previous occupant of the plot has planted daffodils, and every Spring I get a host of the fragrant yellow beauties. There’s also a perennial sweet pea as well, for more blooms in the Summer. Lovely.
The birds and the bees:
We’re not really bothered by pests and beasties too much (touch wood). There are field mice around us (as the plot does have a lot of fields around us) and they’ve even once nested in my compost heap which gave me quite a shock as it started squealing when I was turning it one Spring! There are an awful lot of pigeons to have a go at my cabbages, but I do my best to foil them. Fortunately the thrushes tend to keep the slugs and snails down. We have been lucky in keeping the local rabbits out of the site with some good fences and lots of chicken wire.
On the smaller scale we do have a lot of ladybirds (adults and larvae), earwigs, spiders, centipedes, hoverflies and woodlice. Unfortunately though I do get my fair share of aphids (greenfly and blackfly), whitefly, cabbage white butterfly and sawfly. There is only one ant’s nest on the plot itself, although there is one beneath the glasshouse. We haven’t seen any harlequin ladybirds (yet).
We have lots of bumble bees around us. I would love to keep bees on the plot but so far haven’t been able to justify the costs in my head with the time it would take. When I do then I’ll get more advice. Occasionally I have a wasp in the shed (probably chomping on the wood).
My credentials (or lack of them):
I’ve had this particular allotment for 4 years now (since we moved up here) but before that I had an allotment in Horsham, West Sussex for 7 years. I’m entirely self taught with a few key words of advice from other allotment gardeners, television and books, and more importantly, my Dad, on his allotment or garden.
I try and garden organically where I can. I don’t use weed killer at all on the allotment. I have in the past been bad and used slug pellets but I find that we don’t need them up here (thanks to the thrushes) and now that I know more about them, I won’t use them. I tend to grow with the maxim, ‘plant enough to lose a few’. The only time in the last 4 years I have used pesticide is on an infestation of gooseberry sawfly 2 years ago, I will never use pesticide on plants I intend to eat. I did not get any crop from that particular gooseberry bush so nop harm done there.
At the moment I am learning about companion planting.
I suppose you could call me a lazy gardener. It’s not because I don’t want to do the work, I am never happier than when I am weeding and digging, and I’ll happily go and work on the allotment when I can. I consider myself lazy because I want to know about definite results and don’t want to waste the precious time I have to grow things by failing to produce anything. So I will grow as much as I can in seed trays and transplant to the allotment. I do this mainly because it allows me to bring the seeds on under cover, out of the frost, and also means I usually need to sow less seed, plus I know I won’t weed them away (in my early days I managed to weed away 2 rows of carrots). I have had incredible failures in the past, for 2 years in Sussex I failed to grow a single turnip and one year my peas never materialised, I’ve also lost a complete crop of onions before. My cabbages have often been a bit hit and miss as well. And the weather has played it’s part in the potato and onion crops for the last 2 years with the heavy rain and cool summer meaning that the potatoes were a bit light but the onions were glorious.
Away from the allotment I work in Leeds in an office doing the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. We also have season tickets at Northampton Saints Rugby Club, so that takes quite a few Saturday’s out. Add to that days out and visits to friends and relations and the fact that there is also a garden at home to take care of and the amount of quality ‘allotment’ time diminishes dramatically. I mention this just to say that I don’t have all day to garden, I snatch time when I can, when the weather allows and when it’s light in the evening. You don’t need to dedicate all day, everyday to the allotment (but if they have a best kept allotment then you’ll probably win awards for it if you do). You can get by by doing little and often, and if you keep on top of it then it really does not become an issue. Of course there are times when the weather gets bad or we go on holiday and it’s not possible for me to do any work. We have once come back to see a sea of green weeds and in that case it’s just a case of gritting your teeth and working from one corner all the way to the end.
I grow things to eat. Not for how pretty it looks, not for how big it is. I do not ‘show’ vegetables. Anything I grow I consider to be a bonus. I know some things will not be as good as others, some things will work well. I don’t depend on the allotment but anything I grow saves me money in the supermarket or green-grocers. Plus there is nothing as nice as picking or digging your own veg. And nothing as satisfying as shelling peas on a sunny Sunday morning before blanching and freezing them. I defy anyone not to enjoy the thought of wandering to the allotment on Christmas morning and selecting the vegetables for Christmas Dinner!
I also tend to concentrate on Summer crops, and usually end up with the remaining brassicas, leeks and parsnips in the ground over winter, with potatoes, squash, carrots and onions stored in the garage and the excess beans, peas and corn frozen for use when we want them. There’s always jam and chutney in our house.
I try and keep off the allotment as much as I can after October because we have tended to get very wet Autumns up here, and additionally as the light tends to go I don’t want to stomp around the allotment in my suit after leaving work.
What I grow (or try to):
Strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, rhubarb and apples
Asparagus, broad beans, runner beans, french beans, peas, mange tout, beetroot, courgettes/marrows, pumpkin, butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, leeks, lettuce (iceberg and cos), kale, cabbages (various sorts), cauliflower, calabrese (broccoli), potatoes (first, second and main crop), garlic, onions (red and globe), spring onions, sweetcorn, turnips, swede, tomatoes, chilli peppers, cucumber. In the past I have grown cape gooseberry’s and tomatillos but not this year.
This year I am growing coriander and chives and parsley on the allotment.
Also we are lucky enough around us to have wild garlic growing not far away, so a few years ago I dug some up and transplanted it to the allotment, so now I can see when it is appearing and know that it’s time to go and harvest it.
As well as the aforementioned wild garlic we have lots of hedgerows around us and I know I can lay my hands on blackberries/brambles, elderflowers, elderberries, damson, pears, apples, rosehips and haws all within a few hundred yards of the allotment.
What grows but I don’t want to:
So this brings me on to every allotment holders favourite enemy. The dreaded weed. I must emphasise that I do not rotivate the land as I have cooch grass/twitch and mare’s tail around the very edge, and one patch that does get a bit of bindweed in. So I believe that if I rotivate it I will just spread these weeds around. That is why I fork it all over, breaking up the ground and removing all the weeds. Whether or not that’s true I don’t know, but it’s what I believe so I’ll keep doing it. Plus the exercise does me good, and you do get an incredible feeling of achievement and attachment to the land. And all I need is a fork and a bucket.
I know that on my allotment I get twitch, bindweed, the odd nettle, ordinary grass, wild viola, deadly nightshade (thanks to someone that had one growing in their compost heap and did nothing about it), dandelions, docks and thistles.
I don’t really hoe the land, I get down and fork it to remove weeds. That’s just my foible I suppose. I compost what I can and burn those I can’t. The advantage of weeding at this time of year is that it’s easy to get the bindweed and twitch out as it has not started sending smaller side roots off, most of the other weeds are small and not too well developed.
After I have turned over a few square metres I rake it flat to level it and see if I have missed any weeds. I don’t expect to get all the weeds, some will escape me I know, but at least I am ahead of them.
I always draw out my allotment and work out what I want to plant and where it’s going. This way I can start on the area that I will want first (so that’s either potatoes, peas or onions in the Spring). And it takes into account the lovely rotation system.
This is a large section for now, so I’ll take some photos tomorrow and then post some more then
- 16 Apr, 2009
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Next post: Getting up to date.
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