New Year, new start

I’ve been meaning to start one of these for a while. New Year, new start, so I’ll see how long I keep this up!

#100 March 2012I’ve wanted an allotment for years – but it turns out that a lot of other people in Surbiton do too. I got my plot in late March 2012 after over 5 years’ wait. It is classed as a half plot and costs £31/year including water and woodchippings. Manure is £5/year for 30-40 barrowloads. The plot is roughly 12m x 10m, but tapers towards the east end. It’s on a slope from west to east, for most of the year has had a 25+ft high blackthorn hedge running along the south side and is on bright orange clay, which gets boggy. The previous tenant had put in a fair few trenches to try and deal with the bogginess and I’ve spent nearly a year tripping over them. The 2-field site has the added bonuses of communal areas, wilderness bits and a composting toilet. The latter being a bit of a godsend it turns out!

All the beehives (9) on the 2 fields are on ‘my’ field – so far I’ve witnessed 2 swarms, and this year I’m planning more bee-friendly plants to entice them to stick around.

The plot had 5 raised beds already, one 2.4m x 1.2m and the others roughly 1.2m x 4.8m. One of the bigger beds is half-full of inherited strawberries, which were fruiting long into October but are infested with couch grass.

My friend Michelle got a plot over in High Wycombe at the same time as me and it’s been brilliant to have another newbie to talk to about veggies, though we’re on totally different soils and have vastly different approaches to how we do things. John Harrison’s allotment forum has been an amazing mine of information too – I’ve been on it nearly every day looking for hints on how/where/when to grow things and I’m very grateful for all the pointers.

I’d not really grown anything at all before getting the plot, so I spent 2012 getting rid of the bramble thicket along the top end, working on the 5 beds and thinking about what to do next. And learning a lot. I tried to grow a little of each seed packet that caught my fancy. Despite the crappy weather and being behind in planting all year, most of what I planted did well. I didn’t for one minute imagine that I’d go straight to being self-sufficient, but I’m really pleased with how much I’ve been able to bring home and give away to friends and neighbours. My elderly neighbour is particularly fond of cucumbers.

Over the year most things were sown too late to come to much, but potatoes, chillies,  strawberries, and cucumbers are what I loved most. The less successful: BNS was rubbish at fruiting though grew everywhere, I couldn’t grow peas, it turns out I really dislike asparagus peas and tomatoes got blight really early on – I was gutted about that as I was looking forward to home-grown tomatoes the most. My neighbours told me that the site is very prone to blight, and tomatoes are best grown at home – which I could try on the balcony, but they won’t get much sun. I’ve got some broccoli lurking in one of the beds, but so far it’s done nothing much…

In November the Committee agreed that the massive blackthorn could be taken down to 6ft high, so I now have so much more sunlight on my plot. It turns out there are 2 hedges – the original and one that’s grown up from that about 2 metres away. The good news is that the Committee has decided this new hedge should come out and the land under the new hedge will go to my plot. Unfortunately a couple of long-standing plot holders violently disagree with this plan and have decided to stop speaking to me over it. That’s a bit miserable, but mostly it’s a very friendly site with people I’ve really enjoyed meeting.

After almost a year of carting tools in my stupidly small car I now have a shed too. So I’ll be able to cycle to the plot most days and not battle with decanting tools to the garage.

Goals for this year are:
1) Make raised beds out of the grassy part of the plot and woodchip all the paths;
2) Sow more seed directly and earlier;
3) Have a go at succession planting for a few things – beetroot, french beans, swede, kohlrabi;
4) Try seed saving for a couple of uncomplicated plants;
5) Sort out soft fruit areas and plant a few fruit trees – ideas so far being bramley (fan), ashmead’s kernel and laxton’s superb/queen cox (free-standing espaliers), doyenne du comice, damson/quince. I can’t imagine this won’t change!
6) Take time to just sit about and enjoy the peace;
7) Finish the shed!

I’ve not been up today, but I did plant out 11 cloves of Marco garlic on the balcony in last year’s potato planter. The other bulb will go out on the plot this week after the chimney sweep’s been, and I’ll see which does best.

Categories: Diary 2013

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