Allotment at Home Up-Date: IT’S FABULOUS!
Tuesday 3rd July 2018
Well, 7 months after the project took its first muddy and tentative steps in January’s freezing and wet rain, February’s freezing and wet rain, and March’s freezing and wet snow, I can report that it is an overall success and I love it. There have been some things that I would not do again, some planting and sowing failed (partly, I think, due to the long, cold winter, extending into spring), and some things I would modify, but it is really a great project, delivering all of the benefits I identified as essential and most of the desirables at the outset, plus some unexpected bonuses. Yes, I am a project manager. It’s my (real) job, I can’t help it. I project the (desired) outcomes, I deliver the project, I measure the outcomes against the initial spec. Job done.
Here are some ‘before and after’ images.
The area on the left side of the drive, then and now:
The area on the right side of the drive – then and now:
Some jungle shots:
Some gratuitous allotment/food-porn shots:
If I had been gardening my allotment now, in this extended hot and dry spell, I would have been making tactical sacrifices. Because there is no mains water, only what we collect off our shed roofs and save, plus what we can share from the pond that was dug some years ago, and is pumped into a bank of shared bowsers, I had to walk from the top of the field, to the bottom, with empty cans or buckets and then back up with full vessels, to pour onto the most needy plants.
At this time of year that would be the 4 raised beds, the squash and courgettes, and the beans. I would have decided not to water the cage, or the spinach, or the raspberries and rhubarb. And I am pretty sure the spinach would have died and I would also be unable, short of doing this every day for several hours, to really stop the runner beans from aborting their flowers, or to make the courgettes and squash hydrated enough to thrive. In short, I’d have kept most of it alive but that’s not easy or fun. I did this in the first and second years there, especially the first which was hot – but not as hot, for as long, as this mid-summer has been. It was hot and exhausting, boring labour.
Here, even though 80% of my allotment is in raised beds, I can water it very easily and quickly. Furthermore, as the canopies of the squash and courgettes are so lush and thick, they are in turn providing shade for both their own roots and the roots of companion plants, such as runner beans. Thus I have minimal moisture evaporation despite the beds being in full and intense sun for much of the day.
Even last year which was a fairly wet summer with long, cool spells, I never got such lush and impressive growth. There is no mildew on the courgettes or squash – this is always a problem, but it’s easily remedied by just cutting off and destroying the affected leaves. Here, so far, it just has not happened.
There has been some black fly on the broad beans, mainly I think because I had such a late sowing, the first 2 having failed due to 1) mice; and 2) snow x 2. But here, with mains water at hand, I can blast the affected plants with a water jet which is the most effective and organic method of tackling black fly. And in any case, the black fly has not been at all bad, perhaps because I am on hand to inspect and deal with it at least once, often twice a day so they never really get going.
- I can pick crops whenever I want, rather than collecting enough for 2 or 3 days.
- I can attend immediately to any problems or small tasks that crop up; all my tools are to hand and I have time.
- Time saved is incredible. If I had a spare half-hour there was no point going to the allotment as it took me 10 minutes to walk there. Here, I can use even a spare 10 minutes to really good effect.
- It is far less tiring. I have no-dig, virtually zero weed control is needed and if it is hot, I can come inside or move to shade. On the allotment, there was no shade, a lot of digging and constant weed-wrangling due to the open nature of the site, backing onto weed-infested fields and it having been left in such bad shape before.
- I have a loo! And a kettle!
- It is possible to make a really productive and attractive site. I always thought the allotment was attractive to be fair, once I had it in hand, but this is really beautiful.
- I can sit in the allotment, in a comfy garden chair and have my breakfast, my coffee, a glass of wine – and just enjoy it.
- I do not have to leave the dogs. Rupert is now too old to go to any hostile, hot or cold places. He has been really poorly recently and so I can just let him potter about and then put his bed in the sun or shade, depending on the day. Right now, it is very hot and I would have been unable to leave the boys here for fear of them, and especially Roo, getting too hot or stressed. I’d have to wait for evening or some respite care for him.
- It is my environment and I control the use of all products. I garden 100% organically and whilst this is not always ‘easy’, at least here, I do not have to try and do this in a mixed environment. In fact, because I used pest control methods that mainly relied on barriers, I did not really get that much trouble but there is no doubt that if Allotment A uses chemical warfare and Allotment B does not, Allotment B may get some collateral damage as the little twats move away from the war-zone and over to my peace-camp. Sigh. Also, to be successfully organic, the whole environment – i.e. your own garden, or the whole allotment field, has to be organic. If it is not, it is hard to get that long-term build up of organic benefit as the cycle is always being disrupted by the use of non-organic chemicals or methods beside you or nearby. So for example I had all my allotment broad beans eaten by mice this year for the first time ever and I believe this was because the ecosystem of the plot had been seriously disrupted.
- It is peaceful. It is so peaceful, calm and private. There is no distracting mobile-phone chatter, no machinery or building noise. There is a downside to this, see later, but overall, it is huge bonus and if I am honest this was one of the ‘must have’ benefits of the project before I began.
- The level of produce is not lower, on average. It is in some areas (broad beans, for example) but it is higher – and easier – in others such as salad crops, herbs and squash.
- The rest of my garden – the majority of it, I mean the bits that are not allotment – are getting far more attention because I am here so much more. Once I got my village allotment, the rest of the garden here really suffered and it became a source of anxiety and irritation. Now, balance has been restored.
Downsides and what went wrong?
- I have to improve the soil quality in some of the beds. And in all cases, raise the soil levels.
- There is clearly not much point sowing seeds for crops such as spinach or peas direct as I was able, successfully to do on the allotment. They just do not like it. I have no idea why. But this is easily remedied by sowing in pots and growing on.
- I need to re-think where I site some crops.
- I have been unable to get carrots going. Again, I do not know why as on the allotment I did have great success, also in raised beds. Maybe my timing and the weather.
- Some pests were obviously imported by me along with some of the soil I moved from one side of the fence to the beds. Mainly, probably, slug-eggs, resulting in instant death to germinating seeds as soon as the tiny slugs emerged.
- As ever, I have over catered and there is some crowding going on. Less will have to be more next year.
- Raised beds are targeted by ants far more than open ground so I need constant and better ant control tactics.
- It is a bit lonely. I really never met all the allotment holders as my activity was almost always on weekdays, as I often work at weekends and go out on many evenings. Plus when I was there, I was head-down-race-against-time-working-before-I-need-a-wee. But I do miss chatting to my one-side neighbour, and the old neighbour on the other side who gave his plot up last year, though one of them has been for tea and a look round here! But I have high levels of self-reliance and on balance, I’d rather have the peace and the huge efficiency savings I have gained.
- The broad beans are almost over and so over the next 2 weeks, this will liberate 5 raised beds. These will then be populated with later sowings for French beans, and I will have another go with late carrots and peas.
- Some of the salad crops went over very fast, so I will re-sow for these too.
- I have pricked out several squash plants that self-seeded in the compost – probably butter-nut squash as these are the only squash seeds I ever discard, we eat the others, roasted. Anyway, this means I can continue to site them into free beds or old bath-tubs as in the images, or tyre towers, 2-high.
I have not been to the allotment for weeks. I won’t go back now, as Mark has kindly offered to put it all to bed and save me that heart-aching (but not heart-breaking) job. I do not miss it. It is too joyful, busy and productive here for that. But yet, I am so grateful that I had my allotment years. Had I known that Florence and Will would buy a house with such a big garden and thus (completely reasonably and understandably) bow out of the allotment almost right away, I would never have gone in for it. So it was lucky that I did not know. I would never have learned how to grow vegetables on a big scale, and also that this is my favourite sort of gardening any time.