The reason I have allotments is quite simple really. I love growing my own vegetable and eating fresh and healthy food. This year has been a difficult year for many reasons. Firstly we took on a second allotment which required a lot of work and secondly, the weather has been so bad that crops have not grown and yields are very much reduced.
The beginning of the year is very much preparation time and having a rotavator has really made such a big difference. For one thing I do not have such an aching back anymore and the time to prepare the ground has halved. Also the quality of the ground is far improved because I can get a really fine tilth which makes raking and planting so much easier. This has also meant that work on the second allotment has been easier for the exact same reason. In fact the rotavator has really paid for itself in the first year and I have even hired myself out to fellow allotmenteers to work on their allotments.
Our original allotment has not been too bad in many respects. The over wintered onions and garlic were quite good although the garlic was quite small. In the onion crop we had some reasonably large ones. The potatoes were disappointing and although the weather was not that conducive to blight, it was certainly present. The harvest from them was slightly down on previous years and this year we tried some different varieties with mixed results. With most of our other crops the yields were definitely low and in some cases positively dreadful. The reason for this was the fact that we had a very early and very short summer which arrived in March with the rest of the official summer being either dull or wet and cold. Our peas and bean harvest was especially disappointing considering we had such a good crop the previous year. Talking to many of my fellow allotmenteers I discovered that we were all having similar problems with our carrots which many of us could not get them to grow; in fact having just harvested my remaining carrots the yield and size are well below what I would normally achieve. The salad crops this year also suffered from the weather and although the harvest was reasonable it was definitely down on previous years. One crop that did do well was my Shallots and I have pickled more than other years.
Having taken on a second allotment we made the decision to use it mainly for fruit and so we looked at buying a fruit cage (to keep the birds out, we grow the fruit for us not them). Having looked at the ridiculous prices of them I said I can make one for much less. We acquired some old scaffold boards from the previous owner and bought some more. We also purchased wood for the frame and other bits and pieces to hold it together. As we built the base I said I am not going to cut scaffold boards by hand so it ended up wider and longer than originally planned, a blessing really because it meant we can get more in to it. We then constructed the frame over a few weekends and alongside it we built a raised bed for strawberries. Around about Easter my eighty eight year old father came to visit us and I asked him if he would help us put up the netting which he did so very willingly, and thoroughly enjoyed himself. After he had gone back we then put on the netting on the top and planted it up. We had inherited blackcurrants, red and white currants and gooseberries as well as raspberries. Some of our friends also gave us some raspberry plants and we bought a few more. Something else which we inherited from the previous owner was Rhubarb plants which did very well and will remain where they are as they have established themselves. We planted up the strawberry bed and did not buy a single plant as we found over thirty on the allotment and the yield was very good considering that they were moved. We did not move the inherited fruit bushes initially as they were budding; some of the blackcurrants and gooseberries have been moved into the fruit cage now. One plant that has done exceptionally well this year is the raspberry we were picking until a couple of weeks ago. We have put aside an area for herbs and we are growing the usual mint, thyme, sage lemon balm and several others which I cannot remember. I am also growing horseradish; this can be quite invasive and so it is recommended to grow in through a pot in the ground. This is done by taking a plastic flower pot and cutting the bottom out and digging a hole in the ground and placing the pot in it and planting the root and covering it over. Growing Horseradish is a two year job and it dies back in the winter. I have two roots in as I did not realise the previous owner had some planted. Now I have harvested a few of the stray roots and made my own horseradish sauce and as they said in the recipe it is very strong when you peel it, even stronger than onions (they are not wrong). But the taste is something else, and I cannot wait to make more. We also grew potatoes on the new allotment and they did quite well.
Regarding plans for next year well we intend to keep both allotments; why, because it is so different from what I do in the daytime and it is exercise and fresh air. Also the food tastes so good and there is the sense of achievement of having grown this yourself. Many of the fruit bushes have been moved into the fruit cage and are starting to bud already. We have to take out some raspberries and replace them with ones from home and also from around the edge of the allotment. There is a paved area at the back and I want to take it up and move it to the other allotment and make a paved sitting area in front of the shed, I am looking at planting a couple of apple trees in large tubs and sinking them into the ground to grow so that I can have my own cooking apples. At the moment we are preparing for winter by digging in some green manure as well as skimming off the weeds and covering them with weed suppressant to be followed by old carpet towards the end of February to start to warm the ground up. There are few upgrades to the fruit cage to be done and also we have to finish off putting in the bark pathway and then moving some baby box bushes to give more growing space. I shall also be moving the slabs and re-laying them on our original allotment. So it is going to be a busy winter and from early January seeds will be planted and the dining room table will become a seed nursery. But before then it is now time to draw up the proposed plan for both allotments for next year. All this means is that we can follow a good crop rotation and ensure that we do not grow the same thing in the same place every year.
My allotments are a place for me to relax, unwind, get exercise, fresh air in the knowledge I am growing my own vegetables and fruit, enjoying the great taste and also making some money out of it.
Adrian Rush MISTC
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