Just over a year ago, we went full on middle age when we decided to take on an allotment. For the non-Brits, this is a parcel of land that you rent from a landowner to do with as you please (within reason). Some people use them as a private garden but for the most part, they’re used to grow food. This was our intention but also to put some space aside for wildflowers and decorative plants.
We took it on in February and quite honestly, we could not have done so at a better time. When we paid our first installment, they had several plots free. But by the end of March when the UK entered its first lockdown, they had a whole list of reserves backed up.
Winter and Early Spring
Because we took it on so late by winter standards, and because the plot had been vacant for over a year, it was a bit overgrown. It might not seem like it in this first photo, but it was! There was a lot of bramble and embedded nettle roots which we found to our shock in summer when the top end quickly became overgrown. The result was we had to clear beds quickly to start ploughing the ground and planting seeds and tubers.
What We Planted in Growing Season –
Successes and Failures
This was the main staple we wanted to plant and we did so towards the top end of the plot. In late summer, blight hit and so some of the crop was lost and we uprooted the plants. We didn’t know then (but know now) if caught early removing the affected limbs, the plant will survive quite happily. Still, we had a lot of potatoes harvested from roughly August through to October that lasted until near Christmas.
This year, we’re planting blight-resistant breeds.
Neither of us like fresh tomatoes though we gratefully accepted some tomato plants from a neighbouring plot with the intention of liquidising them for passatta. Sadly, blight got to them too, and when the zip on our polytunnel broke, those protected from the wind were also infected.
Courgettes & Squashes
Our biggest success story and there was a time we thought courgettes (zucchini) would be a complete disaster. Once they started, they never seemed to stop. On reflection, we planted too many green courgette plants though we never knew that at the time. We still have some in the freezer.
Squashes were mixed. We had a few patty squashes but not as many as we’d hoped. Ditto with the butternut squashes. Again, planning this year to have a few plants but not overdo it.
Also in the image above you see some green peppers which we planted in the polytunnel. They came out very bitter and so we’re not likely to plant many this year, or start earlier and encourage them to turn red. Part of the problem with the tunnel is that the soil was such poor quality after over a year without either compost or water. We have remedied that now though.
We had good crops of beans, peas, and onions but they’re not all that exciting to photograph so I will spare you here! Some of these suffered at the hands of rabbits and their continued incursions into the allotment. Inside the polytunnel though we also planted aubergines which despite early promise did not go well. Ditto for a melon plant. The plants looked healthy but the fruits really didn’t do much.
There was already a wildflower bed when we took it on which included (we didn’t know until it started growing) a giant daisy shrub. We also found some bulbs, probably tulips, but we never found out because they were dug up and eaten either by rabbits or mice, or both. Having found a dead rabbit near the wildflower bed, we think we have our perpetrator. Nevertheless, we did plant some bulbs and some mixed wild seeds giving me opportunity to photograph some bees.
In late summer, my other half spotted something red lurking in among a patch of red campion. When she pushed the campion back, she saw a large juicy red strawberry. Knowing how much I love strawberries, she excitedly pointed it out. Our mission for that evening was to clear the weeds and let the plants breathe. To our astonishment, we got about a punnet’s worth of strawberries that summer, and later than the plants on our balcony were producing too.
The Challenges We Faced
There were many challenges. From shoring up a fence that had regular Helm’s Deep style encroachments from Rabbit-Mordor and smaller rodents from Mice-ngard (sorry, couldn’t resist) to what to do about blight.
We never completely cleared all of the plot. Around 1/3 of the area was not harvested in the first year. When lockdown hit, we had not idea if we were even allowed out for the length of time it would take to get major work done. It was later revealed that we could and so we used the mild spring and summer evenings to get some work done.
We had very little water. The site doesn’t supply it and we only had one butt early on which never came close to filling at any point. We relied heavily on a kindly neighbour for a water supply after several months of very dry weather. We now have four water butts, three of which are full up.
What about This Year?
We started planning earlier, naturally. In autumn 2020 we started clearing pathways at the front of the plot and setting down woodchip to control and limit weed growth. We’ve already cleared two beds, made further repairs to the fence and sorted out the compost bins which were overgrown last year with nettle and bramble. It’s looking clearer and tidier. Soon, we will start working to create raised beds for some crops and clear some of the weeds encroaching in the strawberry patch.
This time next year we hope it will look very different!
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