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Almost Summer already

Tidy Tom’s been too busy on the allotment to write about it

Right, first of all I’d like to apologise about the lack of any updates to this column in ages.  It’s partly due to just being busy, changing jobs etc., but also I have actually been working on my allotment in my spare time rather than sitting around writing about it.

I had a very productive ‘off’ season on the allotment.  I’ve had this plot for three years now, and I’ve nearly knocked it into the shape I want now.

The soil fertility has always been terrible on there; but it should hopefully start to improve now. I have double-dug three out of the four main beds; and dug various types of compost into all of them. I have set up a barrel for making liquid feed, into which I have put comfrey leaves, nettles, seaweed, and water.  So far it stinks, which bodes well.

Comfrey is a very useful plant, and I would urge anyone with an interest in growing plants to get some.  It has very thick leaves, in which it stores potash, brought up from deep down by its roots that go to places normal plants don’t usually reach. This means the leaves are a very good source of fertiliser, either by directly placing them around the base of plants, adding them to compost or by making liquid feed from them. The liquid feed is somewhat antisocial though; and I would advise against ever spilling it on your clothing!

I’ve planted a willow hedge along the seaward edge of the plot to try and keep the wind off a bit; it will take a while to establish but so far it’s not looking too bad.  My other winter-time objective was also achieved, in that I have built a new shed.  I’m no carpenter, but I’m quite pleased with it, especially the dormer window. So far I’ve only had enthusiastic comments from the other allotmenteers; I was expecting all manner of moany old bastards to tell me the roof was 2 degrees off the designated angle allowed by the allotment rules etc. Maybe my deeply held and nurtured prejudices about other allotment holders are untrue after all.

This year I plan to grow (or am already growing): Onions, Leeks, Garlic, Elephant Garlic, Potatoes (main crop), Sweet potatoes, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Romanescu (fractal looking thing like a cross between cauliflower and broccoli), Pumpkins (only to try and beat the size of the one last year), Butternut Squash, Chickpeas, Beetroot, Parsnips

Plus I also have various perennials in, in the form of: Raspberries, Strawberries (grown entirely for the badgers’ benefit it seems), Artichokes, Thyme, Mint, Apple (1 tree), Pear (1 tree), Comfrey, Rhubarb.

It’s well worth growing a few perennials as, if nothing else, they require less work in the long run and provide a bit of interest at the times of the year that nothing much else is growing.  I should add also that I have a small back garden in which I grow a few salad vegetables and herbs – things I’m likely to just want a bunch of at short notice.

Over the last winter I read two separate reports on people growing a cover of field mustard where they had planted their potatoes. I’ve grown mustard for years as a green manure, and the idea in this instance is to chop the mustard down at the point of the first earthing up of the potatoes. This provides a bit of extra fertility for the potatoes as they grow; and also prevents nutrients from leaching out of the bare soil at the beginning, as mustard provides a cover very quickly.

Finally, and this is the bit that caught my attention the most, wireworm apparently don’t like to live in the soil if mustard is growing there. I’ve had limited trouble with wireworm damage to potatoes since I’ve had this plot, so if this works it would be a real bonus.

Lastly, my thought for the day on allotments.  There are a few plots on my site that change hands each year, and the waiting list is very long.  This seems to have the effect of concentrating the bad plots among the people that have had to wait for ages. So when someone finally gets a plot, having had the idea to get one 4 years before, they inherit an overgrown patch of uneven ground covered in perennial weeds.

Having finally got to the top of the list, they’re reluctant to turn it down, but the work involved to get the plot usefully productive turns out to be too much, and they either give up or get thrown off by the end of the year, during which time the plot has got even more neglected; and the problems are passed on to the next hapless tenant. If people were given the option of the Council mowing or even digging their plot over for them when they first take it on, it might actually encourage people to stay.

Posted 23:33 Thursday, Jun 17, 2010 In: Green Times

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