First Year Experiences on an Allotment

My biggest regret is that I didn’t take a picture!  I was presented with a patch of land covered in bindweed and above-head-height nettles.  The bindweed had various lumps within it which when cut back revealed some pretty healthy fruit bushes – blackcurrant and gooseberry.  Actually they produced more fruit on them at that stage than I got from them this year as the birds got most of it before I had had a chance to net anything!

I started to tackle bits and pieces of the plot that looked the least overgrown.  I was puzzled as to why neither spade nor fork seemed to be able to penetrate.  I found layer upon layer of old carpet which the weeds had started to grow on top of.  This made my job somewhat easier in that once I had managed to lift the layers of  carpet off the ground, the soil underneath was relatively weed free apart from the tell-tale bindweed roots.

Growing season was upon me before I knew it and I duly got in many rows of potatoes – early, second early and main crop.  Onions and garlic had been planted the autumn before and they seemed to be sprouting happily.

I hadn’t really made much of a plan which is something that I shall definitely do differently in year 2.  My planting plan was a little haphazard, to say the least.  But, overall I am pleased with what I managed to produce and I am now busily trying to get my head round crop rotation and phased planting schemes to ensure that I don’t have a glut of crops to deal with next year and that the ground is used to its maximum potential.

I was surprised by several major aspects of being an allotment holder:

1)      the amount of time that planting out takes up.  I am fortunate to have a greenhouse in the back garden at home and I had several trays of seedlings ready to be planted.  However I had sort of forgotten (or put out of my mind) how much of the ground was not really ready for immediate planting and I would go down with the intention of getting a row of cabbages planted – only to find two hours later that I hadn’t done much more that clear another chunk of land and my allotted 2 hours were up and no planting done;

2)      how quickly weeds appear!!  I was anticipating this but not really ready for the full onslaught.  I found I could get a fair bit done in an hour so early morning seemed to be the best time for this task and I think I just about managed to keep on top of it though compared to my neighbours’ immaculate plots, I must admit to feeling slightly inadequate

3)      harvesting also takes time and effort.  I was not really prepared for how quickly crops suddenly appeared to ripen and I found myself quickly overrun with large quantities of several crops

It has been a huge learning curve and I am grateful for all the advice that I have received from my neighbouring plot-holders.

Disappointments were my butternut squash which I planted out too late; my tomato crop which I saw destroyed by blight before my very eyes and the fruit which the birds beat me to!  Major successes were my pumpkins and strawberries which were still producing fruit into October.

I was reasonably satisfied with my potatoes although many have slug damage from the wet August, I have been led to believe.  My onions were also rather small, which again I have been told is fairly typical for this site.

I’m quite keen to be as organic as possible – to ensure my children don’t ingest too many unspeakable chemicals, but a lot of the organic methods are probably a little too time-consuming, so I may have to find some sort of compromise.  My first reaction on seeing the whitefly infestation on my Brussels was to reach for the spray bottle!

I would dearly love to have more time to spend at the plot but I have to fit it in around the many other demands on my time.  I think that the size of plot that I have (4.25 poles alias 107 square metres) is just about manageable and also gives me the space to grow just about everything that I want or need.  I don’t think I would want anything bigger or smaller.

Greatly looking forward to righting some of my year one mistakes and to having a fully cultivated plot in year two.

Harriet Roach – 8th December 2008. Listed here with her permission.