For years allotments were out of favour. No-one wanted them, and patches of mud with a shed at one end and weeds everywhere else went to waste. Then suddenly gardening became the new rock and roll, and everyone who didn't want to dig up their lawn wanted their own council-run patch of mud. The waiting lists grew faster than the cabbages. Now, after more than three years on a waiting list, Neil Shaw has been given his own patch of green and pleasant land.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Cold comfort farm

Too cold to dig this weekend. Well, for me at least.
The other half spent two hours up on the plot, thinning out the brambles to find the cultivated brambles beneath.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

...dig, dig, dig

Digging, digging and more digging

Monday, 17 November 2008

Dig, dig, dig...

Two more days on the plot this weekend, and two days of solid digging.
The plot is well divided into different areas, so we're working on clearing them one at a time.
At the top, under the shade of a large tree, is a herb garden, followed by a fruit cage with a compost bin next to it.
After this is the area we've been working on, three beds which will be perfect for crop rotation.
We've cleared the middle one back to bare earth and the one above it is now being dug over, after the grass was cut back from four-feet high.
The manuals are divided on digging, with many organic gardeners recommending against it. But With so much vegetation above ground and so many roots below, I don't think we have a lot of choice.
The bottom patch is next on the list.
With so much greenery, and so much bindweed, the only option has been a bonfire.
So last night I burnt about half the waste. Now we just have to wait for a few dry, windless days to get rid of the rest.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The plot unthickens

I've never been much of fan of apples before, seemed like a lot of chewing for not much flavour.
Today I was converted. The only way to eat an apple is to bite into it just seconds after plucking it from the branch.
The plot may be 'well-established', but that has it's advantages. As well as the apple we've also sampled raspberries and blackberries and we've harvested a few potatos.
We've had plenty of warnings from books and other allotmenteers about the disappointment of failed harvests, but if all the food that does survive tastes this good, we're in for a treat.

The paths down either side of the plot are now clear. This seemed to be a good idea as I'm guessing the second rule of Allotment Society is 'keep your neighbours happy'.
The first rule of Allotment Society is you don't talk about Allotment Society.
We've also started to spread the brown among the green. The patch above the bit in the middle, which we've already cleared and started to use for a pile of rubbish, is now hacked back and we've made a start on turning over the soil.
I also found the door to the fruit cage today, so no more clambering through the hole in the net to get inside, and I fixed the door to the larger shed, so no more having to clamber through the hole in the side.
Of course, fixed is a relative term. In this case fixed now means that it is open unless you wedge it shut, rather than shut with no chance of pushing it open.

The most productive thing we've done so far is speak to a few neighbours. Ian and Jane two plots down took over their site 30 months ago so they are full of advice about the best way to clear the plot, what they've had success and failure with and how to pace yourself.

One more plot down is Alan, who took on his allotment the same year I was born. A hive of information he's grown just about everything on his patch in it's time. Except peas, but he takes that as a personal failure rather than a failure of the plot. Thanks to Alan, Ian and Jane we now know to watch out for catterpillars, foxes, slugs and badgers as well as blight.

They all tell us the key is to take things slowly, tackle a bit at a time, and the best way to learn is to experiment, try and fail. Alan revealed he is still learning 34 years on, having just failed to grow any raspberries on one particular stretch - because he grew raspberries there last year.
Still, he knows what went wrong, and it won't happen again.

Sounds like there may be a few failures ahead for us, but if we harvest more marrows than mistakes then I guess we'll be ahead of the game.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Day One. Ground Zero.

I was never a big one for gardening. It may have something to do with the fact the only thing our garden grew when I was young was enough nettles to keep Yarg in cheese-wrappers for a year.
Not to say I wasn't aware of where our fresh food came from. It was either the shop on the corner or Gary Lineker's fruit and veg stall on Leicester Market.
But a couple of years ago I was struck with an urge to start growing my own produce. Not sure where it came from, but maybe watching too many re-runs of River Cottage.
Fortunately Hugh FW hasn't left me with a desire to jack it all in and move to Dorset, nor do I feel the need to picket Tesco over the price of their chickens while foraging for nuts in a hedgerow.
But the desire to grow, to get mud under my fingernails and a kink in my spine, is still there.
So when the email dropped into my inbox offering me a tenancy agreement on a plot, I leapt at the chance.
Having seen the amount of digging it's going to take to get the plot into shape, it may be the last leaping I ever do without extensive chiropractic intervention.
So this weekend we made our first trip to the plot as official allotment tenants, burdened with all the garden tools we have and a couple of pasties.
I'm not sure how long the plot has been left untended. The couple two plots down have been on theirs for two-and-a-half years and they say them seem to remember someone being on our patch when they first arrived.
So how best to described the plot? I could start by saying I wouldn't be too surprised if I came across a previous tenant trapped in the undergrowth.
We've had lots of advice from people on how best to clear the site, mostly involving flamethrowers, and I must admit it is very tempting to go 'jungle warfare'. I've investigated the pros and cons of Agent Orange or maybe just an airstrike involving Daisy Cutters and napalm.
I love the smell of napalm in the morning, reminds me of...vegetables.
Perhaps not.
Anyway, all the books (and we've borrowed enough from the library to strengthen our backs for the digging task ahead) say it's important to clear the ground by hand with a spade to get to know your soil.
Getting to know your soil, not sure if that sounds hippy-ish or Jeremy Kyle-ish.
After a half-hour digging and hacking on Saturday morning, we decided to ditch the fork, and try the pasties instead.
Then a couple more hours with the pruning and the digging and the building a huge pile of junk in the middle of the plot.
We also cleared a path to the two sheds, where we found, amongst other things, a chemical toilet, a large patio table with parasol and chairs and a hand-plough the type of which hasn't been used since the 14th century.
OK, enough, we give up - to assorted comments from our allotmenting neighbours.
Sunday saw more of the same, with the added benefit of heavy showers and high winds. But at least one small patch in the middle of the site is now reddy-brown, instead of green, and the fruit cage now has just plants in it, instead of plants, glass, rotten chipboard and rusted spikes.
Over the next few weeks, months....years, I'll let you know how we get on clearing the plot and eventually planting a few, er, planty-things and finally digging them up and eating them.
Any advice, thoughts and comments will be appreciated.