Getting to grips with an allotment - one year on
Getting to grips with an allotment is a daunting prospect. This week marks one year since we took on ours. In reality, it's probably 8 months since we really started getting on top of things.
Taking on an Allotment - How it Was
So we took on a bit of a challenge. To put it mildly.
There was one sort-of bed with some old strawberry plants in it, half a broken 'cage' with stinging nettles inside and a blue drum for catching water. That's it. Oh except we also had lots of couch grass, marestail, bindweed and all those other things that strike fear into the hearts of any allotment holder, even if you don't know what they are (which we didn't). We just knew that people shook their heads when you mentioned them. On the right of this picture you can see a wire fence, with a couple of fruit trees on the half plot next door. That plot is now ours too and the fence is gone for we are, it seems, gluttons for punishment.
How it is now
Today we're reflecting on all the amazing things this space has produced for us. Given that we had absolutely no idea what we were doing, it is incredible what has grown in such a short time.
Don't get me wrong, it's been a lot of work. Andy has done the real heavy duty hard graft, I've done the less physically demanding stuff. In June we were offered the half plot next door. We'd gazed at its pear tree laden with fruit the previous autumn. So we jumped at the chance to have it. The tree didn't produce anything this year (gah) but hey, that's life. It's still great to have expanded the growing space, and we'll probably be overrun with pears next year.
What we grew
Over 12 months this space has given us (and this is not an exhaustive list): cabbages, chard, lettuce, rocket, gem squash, butternut squash, runner beans, strawberries, aubergines, raspberries, blackcurrants, red currants, white currants, pink currants, sweetcorn, wild strawberries, broad beans, pumpkins, garlic, mangetout, peas, marrows, rocket, red cabbage, tomatoes, nasturtiums, scallop squash, cucumbers, figs, apples, cherries, plums, blackberries, red onions, yellow onions, spring onions, radish, peppers, courgettes, leeks, potatoes, chili peppers and french beans. I kid you not. Here are some of those beauties in all their glory.
Many of these we'd never grown before, most we grew from seed for pennies from seeds bought cheaply on Ebay. We had no plan at all, we just kept chucking everything at it. Any seeds I had or found, I grew. Some of them were well past their use by date, they grew anyway.
Fortunately I only planted one or two plants of most things so we didn't have a glut of anything except marrows (like everyone else, seemingly). And gem squash... my single plant grown from seed produced 34 gem squash, with the 34th being picked only today! Luckily we love gem squash and, once we've seasoned them, they'll last in our cellar through the winter.
We had some failures. Our potatoes got blight and we only managed to salvage a few of them. A lot of our sweetcorn was eaten by who-knows-what. The tomatoes outside the polytunnel also got blight. The cauliflowers bolted. Our borlotti beans and carrots never got going. Those will be our challenges for next year.
What we spent
So here's the thing. We have spent very little money on this allotment over the 12 months we've had it. Our polytunnel was donated by someone who didn't want it anymore. We inherited a large amount of weed suppressant sheeting which was already there, so we only bought one smaller suppressant membrane on Ebay.
All our compost bins were also donated by a relative who bought a house and found them in the garden. We picked up wonderful garden tools on Freecycle and a load of old garden furniture including a swing for £10 (!) from the Friday Ad.
A local tree surgeon brought over a truckload of oak and ash wood chippings for free, we laid cardboard (recycled from used boxes in our shop) and put the chippings on top to create paths. We picked up pallets for free from the local building site to make extra compost and leaf mould bins. Our neighbours gave us a roll of chicken wire to protect the strawberries from birds.
We bought pallet collars for peanuts from the Friday Ad (the Friday Ad is your friend) though we know a lot of people who have managed to source those for free as well. They are great for creating raised beds. There were hay bales left over from the village Fun Day. We acquired 2 of them and we're still using that hay to lay between our canes and put under the squashes and pumpkins.
Some of our allotment neighbours were so kind and donated seedlings to us, which went on to produce vegetables. We were given some raspberry canes for free on Freegle by a lady who was having a clear out in her garden. Those canes produced MASSES of raspberries; I was still picking them this morning. I bought all the other fruit canes on Ebay - £12.99 for the lot. They all produced fruit.
Our biggest outlay on the allotment
The only thing that has cost us more money than planned was compost. Our soil is full of clay and difficult to work. We needed compost either to mix into it or lay on top of it. We had no way of making any quickly enough so we had to buy it in. Then we had to get the sacks of compost over there, which was our biggest challenge last Winter.
You have to cross 2 fields to get to our allotments and, up until about mid-March, it's too boggy to drive across. So there we were, making countless journeys back and forth dragging a wheelbarrow through a bog.
We hopefully won't need to buy in compost in these quantities again because our heaps are now composting away. Every time we go up there we take all our kitchen scraps, ripped up newspapers and shredded cardboard to add to them. Local coffee shops are pleased to give you their coffee grounds for free to add into the mix. The heaps should be broken down nicely within a year or so.
How we feel about our Allotment now
We've ended up with an allotment space which has given us masses of food and a lot of happiness. Whilst it isn't beautifully manicured like some (much as I try), it's our space. And we love it there. If you've just taken on an allotment and you're feeling overwhelmed, we were like that this time last year. It really is amazing what you can achieve if you put your mind to it! And if we can do it then I promise you: you can too.
So if you've been offered an allotment and are trying to decide whether or not to accept it... just do it! I've discovered a real love for that peaceful space that I didn't expect. There really is nothing quite like sitting with a cup of tea after you've done some weeding, gazing at your allotment.
And, of course, there's nothing quite like eating fruit and vegetables that you have grown yourself. We've taken photographs of our plot throughout the year, you'll find them here on the Almost Offgrid Facebook page.
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