Allotment Gardening

 

In March 2010, after being on the waiting list for about 2 and a half years, I was offered a plot at Highcliffe Allotments. Little did I know when I first saw the paperwork that this was a plot that had been reclaimed form overgrown woodland in Autumn 2009! The council’s idea of reclaiming the plot was to bulldoze everything on site, including clearly at least one greenhouse and cold-frame, into a heap in the neighbouring woodland, pushing over about 10 feet of established and mature hedge in doing so.


The site that I took on therefore looked barren and deceptively free of weeds (see right).

However, within a month or so of taking on the plot, it became very clear indeed that the site was absolutely stuffed with Dock root fragments, that had been turned into the ground by council rotivation, thistles and bindweed.

Mum on Allotment, March 2010

It didn’t take long, however, before nature started to show who is boss and that the council’s “cheap and cheerful” clearing wasn’t going to last for long! By the time that I had dug one third of the length of the plot - and only a yard wide strip at that! (right & far right) - the docks in particular, and the other weeds too, were making a thick, green, tropical forest over the rest of the plot (middle right & far right).

However, at least the soil is pretty good.

Another issue that was a bit of a headache for me was the “hedge” between my plot and the one down the hill (below left). The allotment rules state that the internal hedges cannot be more than 5 feet in height. That’s great but the row of Willow trees which, at some point in the fairly distant past, were very crudely coppiced to form a sort of hedge between the plots, have developed into a crude boundary of about 6 feet in width at the thickest part, which is very wavy (seeming to encroach on to my plot more than next door....) and around 15 feet tall! Eventually I gave up on the hedge and engaged the services of Steven Fawcett (Gardener) and his chainsaw to bring this under control. It’s still over 5 feet though!

As well as being overgrown and  full of weeds the plot contains a vast amount of glass, metal and brick rubble. At least one greenhouse was clearly bulldozed in the clearance and in the first two sessions of digging alone I filled nine 2-gallon buckets with glass and removed more than 20 pieces the size of A4 paper or greater. I also added over a dozen lengths of mangled metal to the heap of mangled metal and broken timber in the neighbouring woodland, which can clearly be seen to have been pushed there by the JCB and abandoned. The plot had barely a squeeze gap in the hedge and no gate, so my first investment for the allotment was a cheap gate from Wickes (below).

By June the weed growth was getting out of hand (right), and a neighbour who obtained their plot a few weeks before me and had made huge efforts at first, has clearly given up, at least for this year.

Well Being Day.

Once a year, towards the end of the summer term, we have a staff Well Being day at work. This involves staff choosing an activity off-site for the afternoon which is going to provide a non-work related activity which will be physically and / or emotionally beneficial. My boss kindly suggested that a group of us set to work on my plot for the afternoon to try to make some real impact and this we did. At the end of the afternoon we had a Rhubarb bed (complete with around 40 Rhubarb plants), a herb bed (complete with many varieties of Sage, Rosemary, Curry Plant and Mint) and a significantly increased area of land with black polythene covering to reduce the weed growth.

To see larger pictures of the Well Being Day activities click here.Well_Being_Day_2010.html

Some Expert Assistance.


In August (2010) it became clear that with the scale of the job required to tame the hedges, and the constant intrusion of dogs leaving their droppings through the well trodden path through the woods behind the plot, I needed some extra help.


I
secured the services of a gardener, Steven Fawcett, and his petrol powered chainsaw and “industrial” hedge cutter.


In just one hour Steven had reduced the badly coppiced willow “hedge” to a manageable 6 feet in height and had reduced the hawthorn to less than half its thickness, making the plot look and feel much more cared for but also making it possible to see the boundaries for the first time.


A few days later Schani, Keith, Christine and I used the willow clippings to make a tough barrier at the boundary with the woodland.

 

One Year On..... (August 9th 2011)

I took the plot in March 2010. The first year was not an easy one, and included battles of words with the Council over a number of issues. We ended up having to agree to differ: their main concern was that the plot was not progressing at a speed that they found acceptable and my main concern was the state that the plot had been left in with regard to bricks, glass, mangled metal and other debris just below the soil surface and lack of proper fencing.

However, the Allotment officer did kindly agree to erect a chestnut fence at the rear of the plot which was done in late Spring 2011 and he also agreed to get some raised beds built for me, which have yet to appear but I am assured they will be in place before 2012 planting takes place.

In the meantime the blackcurrant bushes are getting to quite a size, the Rhubarb is making outstanding progress, there are now a dozen gooseberry bushes which are growing quite well, the herb bed is making some progress (I hope to turn it into a par-terre with low hedging later) and there are two each of apple, cherry and pear trees which hopefully will be trained into Espaliers as they get a little larger.

I even managed to get a small crop of heritage variety potatoes, despite the dry weather and the fact I’ve neglected them terribly this year.

Well established blackcurrant bushes and wood chipped path.

Pear & Apple trees (and council provided Chestnut fence).

Heritage varieties of Rhubarb grown from Heligan seed.

Young gooseberries (Chesterfield Aldi!)

Heritage Potatoes.

On chopping board: Pink Fir Apple (back row); Shetland Black, Charlotte; Highland Burgundy Red (middle row); Salad Blue (front row)

Herb bed - set out at Well Being Day 2010

View from the far end -

09:45 on 09/08/11

Cherry Tree (and docks!)

Espalier Wires for the Apples & Pears now in place.

Espalier Wires for Apples & Pears now in place.

Espalier Wires for Apples & Pears now in place.