Larging it in the Allotment
plans to turn a 60 by 30ft area of grass and sedge into
an organic allotment. He reveals his thoughts on the
Several weeks ago I turned 35. Not a big deal in itself
perhaps, but on the same day I took up ownership, or
rather became custodian, of an allotment. These two
events individually don't amount to much but look at
them together and suddenly I've turned into Arthur Fowler.
So no more dissing and larging it with my posse and
not doing up the laces on my Nikes, I'm off down the
allotments in my wellies to sip sherry with my new friends
and discuss the merits of Axminster carpet as a mulch.
An allotment nerd at my age, I'd never have thought
it; I'm praying for the outbreak of war now so I can
claw back some vestige of credibility.
It's actually more of a field than an allotment. A 60
by 30ft display bed of indigenous grasses and sedges,
which Sarah and I have bravely elected to garden organically,
hence our first problem. How the hell do you get rid
of all those weeds? Fortunately there is a communal
strimmer owned by the allotmenteers, as I have discovered
the official term to be. The plan is to chop all the
grass down, rake it off and put it on the compost
heap that doesn't yet exist.
Being something of
an organic allotment virgin, I'm going to treat the
whole thing like an experiment. I've been storing up
all sorts of old wives' tales and half-baked ideas for
years and now at last I'm going to put them into practice.
At least half of the plot we're going to tackle next
year in the spring. We've been saving cardboard boxes
over the last few months so for the time being we can
put them down as a mulch
to eventually kill all the weeds. I'm planning on weighting
it down with a few logs and covering it with bark so
it isn't too much of an eyesore. I'm hoping that it
will all rot down over the winter so I can fork it in
next year but I'm afraid that's possibly a little optimistic.
The way I see it, you can't have an allotment and not
try the old carpet thing, so I'm going to experiment
with some of that as well.
With the rest of it I'm just going to start digging
and endeavour to remove all the roots by hand. I'm hoping
that for me the silver lining of this summer's cloud
is that all the rain will have kept the ground a little
soft and I'll actually be able to get the fork in.
There's a communal pile of well-rotted leaf
mould that needs to be shifted before this autumn's
deluge of leaves appears, so I'll dig some of that in.
I'll probably scatter a bit of fish, blood and bone
about as a fertilizer as well.
Part of the cleared
area I'm going to sow with a green
manure that I can just fork into the soil to provide
some nutrients, and while it's growing it should smother
weeds. It's late in the year so I'm a bit limited for
choice, limited to a choice of one in fact, so perennial
rye grass it is. The only thing on the whole allotment
worth keeping is a patch of comfrey,
which I'm rather pleased with. Being rich in potassium
and some trace elements, this perennial makes great
compost and now is the time to divide it and plant offsets
to increase the crop.
Once I've done all that, the battle will be on to actually
some crops before it's too late. Turnips are allegedly
a good way to get rid of couch grass so I'll definitely
be trying this, garlic is said to be superior if planted
in autumn rather than spring, and I'll also be sowing
some onions. Leeks and spinach will feature and one
of my favourite vegetables, kohl rabi, is a must. These
weird cabbagey turnipy things can be grated into salads
for a nutty taste or boiled and mashed. I've been advised
to leave large gaps between rows for the first year
or two until I'm really on top of the weeds, and crop
rotation, I'm afraid, will have to wait until next
year when I'm a bit more organized. In the meantime
I suppose I'd better set about building some sort of
shed, somewhere to keep the tools and, of course, the
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