Resurrecting the raised beds

I had a medley of tasks to choose from as I headed to the allotment today. My vague idea was to make a start on a central path – a very simple one from one end to the other, which would also serve to block off the left half of the allotment, which I’m not looking at this year because it’s too scary. I have kind of made a start – I used the spade to cut into the ground each side, and then put newspaper down, then straw. I’ve only done about a third of the path because the ground was harder in the middle than on the right-hand side of the allotment, and a path isn’t totally essential anyway. I made a new friend:

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As a break from the path-digging, which I have to confess was both demoralising and pointless, I decided to test out the raised beds. Happily, these were far easier to dig. They’re not ready for growing yet, but I made pretty decent progress:

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I know it’s a drop in the ocean, but I think it’s a good starting point. I’m thinking of constructing another one in the space at the front of this photo – then rearranging my allotment plan somewhat. I’d only ever planned to have 6 in total, but I’ve already got 4 on one side. Hmm. The raised beds weren’t just easy to dig – they contained an unexpected treat:

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Potatoes! Not an abundance, but enough to have as a side dish this evening. I hadn’t thought that I’d be taking back food from the allotment so soon.

I also decided to create a little wildflower patch, partly because wildflowers are awesome, and partly because I have some snapdragons that are proving to not fit on the balcony garden due to an abundance of other stuff. I hit a bit of a wall there:

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Yes, the patch I chose to dig was full of these horrific roots. I’m not sure what they were, exactly – possibly some very ancient parsnip, but they were an absolute pain. I cleared enough of the patch to plant two snapdragons, and marked out the rest of the patch. It took about four hours.

I’m going to do some resting now. I have Party Rings (finally vegetarian again, it’d seem) and alcoholic ginger beer, and am planning a nice long bath. I’m hoping to get to the allotment at some point over the week – working full time makes this a bit tricky, but I’d like to have a bit of a midweek dig.

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A journey of 1000 miles

CaptureI think that’s my allotment more or less done, now. Probably don’t need to do any more work on it, now my blueberry plant’s sitting on it.

I JEST. There is a LOT of work ahead. I’d anticipated this, of course, but going and doing it is another matter. I joined Freecycle a couple of days ago, and there was a lady in the area wanting to give away strawberry plants. I took her up on this, of course, and they arrived on my doorstep this morning (it was really nice, she even delivered them for free! AND threw in some extra garlic chives! Gardeners seem to help each other out, which I find a bit heartwarming). This was why I decided to tackle the strawberry patch first.

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It’s only a fraction of my mad plan, but I think that’s the only way to do it, really. Even with help, I’m not going to be able to dig EVERYTHING. I’ve made a list of my plans for the next few months:

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I’ll confess to getting a little carried away at roughly point 8. Shedwise, though, I might be in luck – I got chatting to another allotmenteer today. He’s retired and therefore knows everything. He thinks I’m insane for taking on the allotment, an opinion I’m starting to sympathise with, but he said he’d ask around to see if anyone has a spare shed for me, which would be fantastic. I really want to win the approval of the elderly allotmenteering community in my area. I think I’d gain their respect by working really hard and proving that despite being ‘just a young lass’, I can do a BIT of allotmenteering. As I’ve said before, my expectations of what I can achieve even in a year’s time are pretty low.

Which is just as well, because much elbow grease is required at this stage. When I started digging today, I immediately thought ‘oh no, what hell have I wrought’. I’ve only got a spade and a fork, and I’m becoming increasingly convinced by the argument that I should just get a rotavator and be done with it. I was very lucky today because Wise Colleague Ian ‘volunteered’ to help me dig, meaning we got FAR more done than I could have foreseen.

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It looked like this until today:

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The soil’s still not ideal – this is where a rake would come in handy, and I’m slightly nervous about how the strawberry plants will react, but we’re getting there. One thing that’s hampering our efforts is the amount of broken glass hidden in the allotment. It was previously used as an allotment 15-20 years ago, and it seems as though an entire greenhouse has been broken up. Just from today, the broken glass filled an entire plastic bag, and picking the individual bits out of the soil is a job in itself. I did find some interesting things beneath all the weeds, though: a couple of cassettes. I don’t think they’d play anymore – far too much weathering – but it’d be interesting to see what on earth was on them.

Here’s the view from the strawberry patch:

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My allotment goes all the way up to that post, where the left-hand fence ends. You see the issue. I’m happy with how much we’ve managed to do today – if I keep managing to recruit people to help me out (bribing them with biscuits), I think things could be well underway even in the next month. My plan for tomorrow is to tidy up the strawberry patch and make a start on a wildflower patch, and then throughout the week, maybe dig further towards those old raised beds. If I could get even one of them going again, it’d be a good way of creating growing space fairly early on, and a way of making things look more allotment-like. The left half of the allotment – I don’t think I’m even going to touch it this year. The weeds are more stubborn and there’s more general debris – wooden pallets, mostly, but also quite a bit more glass. If I concentrate on the right-hand side for the moment, I think things will be a bit easier.

I’m pretty tired now. I gulped down a pizza in record time. I tended to the balcony garden so it didn’t feel left out. I’m feeling pretty content with the world, though. I just hope I’m still able to walk tomorrow.

Finally – allotmenteer level up!

An allotmenteer without an allotment is like a tomato plant with no leaves – a bit sad and useless (inspiration for this simile was taken directly from a couple of plants on my own balcony, as it happens). I’d resigned myself to watching all episodes of the Icelandic sitcoms Dagvaktin and Fangavakin (sequels to the excellent Næturvaktin) instead of ever going outside again, but then, to my joy, I finally got the keys to my very own allotment yesterday!

It’ll be hard work. Really, really hard work. It’s currently very much overgrown with nettles and dock leaves, which I’m assured will be cut back a bit on Friday, meaning I’ll be able to start digging on Saturday, I hope. I’ve done some research online, and some people seem to think that nettles are an indicator of decent soil quality. The small amount of soil I can see beneath the nettles does seem good, although I’m not sure how much of a comfort this will be as I dig throughout the weekend, and then throughout all of next month before the frosts creep in. There are some raised beds already, although they are currently underneath a million nettles. It won’t be as hard as it would be to build an entirely new allotment, but it’s nowhere near ready for planting. It’s fantastic. To celebrate, I bought my first spade:

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Well, it was really my trade union, of whom I’m a passionate member, who paid for the spade. I got vouchers for referrals. My allotment’s going to be a good, socialist allotment.

Vouchers run out eventually, though, so I’ve join various local message boards and groups to see if I can get any second-hand equipment for free (items like wooden pallets and paving slabs and guttering, and who knows, maybe the odd plant), or at least cheaper. I think it’s the best way to do it – I don’t want to dive in head first and spend all my savings at once on stuff that might get nicked anyway (there have been a few thefts in the area).

It’s all exciting, anyway, and my plan at the moment is to spend all of Saturday and Sunday digging. My housework, online courses and obsessive Icelandic sitcom-watching will have to take a back seat until the frost comes, I think. And then I’ll use winter to plan (and maybe accumulate more gardening stuff). Maybe the timing of me getting the allotment isn’t so bad, thinking about it. OK, I’m not going to grow anything on it for a while, but I have work to do right away, which is good, also for my expanding waistline, but it won’t be as though I have AN ENTIRE GROWING SEASON before me right from the start. Just a lot of digging.

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Here’s what’s been going on in the meantime. I had to buy some plants from the Victoriana Nursery down in Kent – they have a lovely range of slightly rarer varieties. I ordered borage, hyssop and sea kale. The borage isn’t ready yet, but the rest all arrived today (I’d also bought a couple of snapdragons from Homebase on my lunch break, because I have limited willpower). The hyssop will hopefully act as a companion plant to brassicas once it’s grown, and is supposed to be good for the bee population. The borage, once I have it, is supposed to be a good companion plant to basically everything, and I think you can use the flowers for exciting salads and so on. The sea kale is just adorable. Look at it, sitting there. I think it’s going to be awkward to get to grow, and I haven’t decided when exactly to transport it to the allotment or what to do with it before then, but I’ll figure it out.

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I’ve got a couple more little cucumbers growing, although how big they get this late on remains to be seen. I’m getting increasingly frustrated with my multitude of tomatoes, which don’t seem to be ripening. I consulted a range of gardening blogs, and to be honest, I have so much faith in them that if they said ‘Sing lullabies to your tomatoes to make them blush’, I’d have done it. Luckily, I surmised that I’ve still got time before they begin to ripen, so all is not lost. Failing that, there’s the ‘apple in a paper bag’ method of ripening, but more on that if I end up actually having to do it.

Next step is to figure out what can go on the allotment, and what can stay on the balcony. So far the only things that I think can definitely go, although not necessarily in the very near future, are the blueberry, blackberry, loganberry and raspberry plants. I’ll have to muse on this further.