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.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Double time and double digging

Last weekend we managed to ship the children off to Grandma's for the weekend, and spent two days on the plot. Three to four hours on Saturday and the same again Sunday.

Result? The top patchg is now entirely free of all weed life, grass etc. We took pity on a couple of rosemary bushes, a bay tree and some lavendar - but aside from that we went Agent Orange on the place (organcially speaking).

After that, we grubbed up a row of blackberries, pulled out two delapidated fruit fences and started to re-dig last years potato patch.

It is amazing how much you can get done with a lot of focus and no children. It looked great.

This weekend I spent two hours on Saturday on the plot with my eldest, who was content to dig, wash old potatos and play in a shelter while I started double dugging that cleared top patch.

This morning there was another two hours on the patch, this time just me and my iPod.

I've managed to get a fifth of the top patch dug over now, but it's a race against time.

We want to get it in a good condition so we can get some plants in now. I reckon another nine to 12 hours and it will be good to go. The weather report doesn't look good for the week though - rain and even sleet up till Wednesday.

Next weekend, Easter, we have family down and they will be here into next week - so it could be a fortnight before we get a decent block of time.

If the weather holds, now the evenings are lighter, I'll try to get an hour or so up there each day before dark.

Plans for the top plot, which is fairly shallow thanks to tree roots, are leeks, onions and garlic.

Fingers crossed!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Sprout surprise

It's been a while, but we finally managed to get back on the plot this weekend - and it wasn't as bad was we'd feared!!

There was a combination of reasons for taking a couple of months out, and the first point to make is that it wasn't planned.

We didn't get up there for a couple of days, then it rolled over to a couple of weeks, then it was a couple of months.

Behind it all was the daunting task facing us, and the relentless nature of it. No sooner have we cleared one patch, then moved on to the next, and then the first one is covered in weeds again.

After a while, a thing like that can grind you down.

On top of that, our youngest was just six months old when we first took on the plot. We'd been on the waiting list for four or five years and the offer came at the worst possible time. It meant that the whole family couldn't get up to the plot at the same time.

We tried it a couple of times, but the place just isn't baby proof. So most of the time one or the other of us was ploughing a lonely furrow.

On top of that, it was just a question of time, and life. We both work full time so weekends get very busy with everything else that isn't work. The allotment was on the to-do list most weekends, but just kept getting knocked off the end.

Any way, we're back, and the winter weather seems to have done us a favour. The few months break hasn't seen the place overcome as we'd expected, and no-one has raided our shed.

Part of the problem has been trying to fit in around the architecture of what was left behind on the plot.

It had been divided into several strips, with some fencing, half a fruit cage, some stones and bits of wood.

We've been trying to clear around that to keep anything of any use. But it just didn't work. It was a very inefficient way of clearing the plot and preparing it for planting.

So the new plan is seek and destroy. I spent Sunday afternoon redigging the top plot and taking down the fruit wire cage the divides it from the plot beneath.

It was a liberating experience, opening up the space made it seem much more logical, and gave a clearer idea of the task ahead. Now the evenings are getting lighter we will be able to spend a couple of hours a day up there and we aim to have a lot of the plot back in use within weeks, rather than months.

One pleasant surprise of the weekend trip was sprouts. The first thing I spotted on the plot was two green spikes crammed with brussels. Interesting, as when I planted them I thought they were kohol rabi.

I dug them up, took them home and we had sporouts for tea - the best tasting sprouts ever!

The benefits of an allotment - exercise, fresh air, a hobby, meeting new people and (best of all) fresh, organic, local produce you've grown and nurtured yourself from seed far outweight the hard work you have to put in.

But sometimes, when faced with an overgrown weed patch that looks like someonthing from a rainforest documentary it is hard to remember that.