In March 2015 we took on a half sized allotment, moving from another site which was to be closed. The new plot was smaller than what we currently had, but crucially it offered full sun – a vast improvement on the shady plot that we had been struggling on for a few years. The plot was a typically weedy, neglected allotment with plenty of couchgrass, rosebay willow herb and bindweed to contend with, so the first job was to dig these out, being careful to remove as much of the roots as possible.
Once cleared, we constructed 10 raised beds which were to form the main vegetable growing beds. We found that the narrow shape of our plot meant we had to use a mixture of 6x3ft and 4x4ft wooden beds in order to make use of as much space as possible. The resulting zigzag pattern looks quite nice, though I do curse it every time I try and navigate a wheelbarrow through the plot! We were keen to have a low maintenance garden, so we put down weed suppressing fabric in between the beds and topped this with bark chips to make a rustic but highly effective path. Next we bought in bags of organic soil conditioner to fill the beds. I had been reading a lot about Charles Dowding’s No-Dig Approach and had decided to use the bagged compost as a mulch on top of the soil as a mulch rather than digging it in. This has been our approach ever since and we have seen fewer weeds, watered less, and had fantastic harvests from healthy plants, so I can vouch for it’s effectiveness.
We managed to transplant a number of plants from our old allotment, including the garlic that had been growing since the previous October, a gooseberry, some strawberries, 12 raspberry canes and various herbs. I have since added more fruit bushes than I really have space for including another gooseberry, red/white/blackcurrants, a blackberry, tummelberry, tayberry, Japanese wineberries, honeyberries, blueberries (in pots of ericaceous compost) and 3 apples trained as ‘step-overs’.
We have found the smaller size of allotment is ideal, as we can keep it thoroughly well tended and in the height of Summer it provides more food than we really need. There have been failures as well as triumphs and we have all the usual pests that thrive on allotments – slugs sometimes eat seedlings, aphids have killed plants, pigeons have stripped brassicas and I’m sure someone kept picking our tomatoes last summer. But we accept these failures as part of the larger picture – we have never used a single pesticide, and the natural balance of the garden means that ladybirds and hoverflies thrive on our aphids, frogs and birds enjoy our slugs and Melissa’s ‘DO NOT EAT!’ sign seemed to do the trick with the tomatoes. Central to this organic approach of encouraging beneficial wildlife was to put in a small pond. We bought a pre-formed pond liner, and it was quite hard work to dig a hole that was just the right size, but it wasn’t long before we were seeing a frog enjoying a dip which made it instantly worthwhile.
As well as fruit and veg, we grow more and more flowers (particularly anything that is popular with the bees and butterflies), often cramming all sorts of plants into the larger perennial beds at the front of the plot.
Our allotment is on a friendly site with plenty of characters from a competition leek grower to an Italian who grows lentils and chickpeas. There is a communal polytunnel which is fantastic as we wouldn’t have space for one on our plot, and even a composting toilet! I really don’t know what I would do with all my spare time if we didn’t have our allotment, and I love everything from the planning, the physical graft (including the annual delivery of 1 tonne of compost), the sowing and planting, and of course the cooking and eating of our produce.