(With thanks to Janet, The Queen of Seaford, for the post title, which came from a comment she made on a previous post…)

I’ve spent this week getting to know my allotment, meeting people, getting blisters and learning things. Number one priority was to get to know the soil.

Soil

I seem to have been very lucky here – the soil has clearly been well worked, and fed. I took the picture above after a day’s heavy rain, but drainage seems really good. The soil is clay, but has a lovely texture. Incidentally, the photos are not going to be as good quality as I normally aim for as I am only using my old “point and click” camera up at the allotment at the moment. My usual camera is too precious for me to use it with filthy hands…

Couch Grass
Welcome Worms

Its not all good news. The plot is riddled with couch grass (above left) and dandelions. Happily the soil has such a good structure that extracting whole roots of both is proving a lot easier than I have experienced in the past. It still leaves me with the problem that I can’t compost the couch grass, and there is a “no fires or barbecues” rule, so I will have to bag up the nasty stuff and dump it in my own green bin for the council to deal with. To balance the weeds I do have plenty of worms too, which is wonderful, and there also seem to be lots of ladybirds around.

Evidence Of Liming
Mostly Acid

I took my soil tester up to the plot too. My garden has slightly acidic clay, but I didn’t want to assume the same was true up at the plot. The bed I am starting on – the middle left 4m x 4m bed as you look up the plot – shows evidence of carrots, onions, chard and cabbages having been planted there. The left image shows a slightly alkaline soil, so I think it must have been limed recently. The right hand image was more what I was expecting. This was taken in the back right bed which has been used for sweetcorn most recently. The extreme reading was a surprise, though others I took were slightly less acidic. Something to remember, and I think I will keep the soil tester in my allotment kit bag for now, and gradually test the other beds as I get to them.

My second priority was to get a realistic feel for how much I can achieve in a reasonable – for me – burst of work. All the advice in books and blogs is to do little and often when you take on a new allotment – or garden – so that you make steady progress without exhausting yourself. I decided to start with only an hour’s work at a time, in 10 minute bursts with at least a quick stretch and breather in between, and at least one longer break. Sort of like a lot of the books recommend you approach starting running, where you run for a minute and then walk for 2 until your stamina improves. Anyway, I wanted to see how that went, both in terms of how I felt afterwards and how much I could achieve. That way I get an honest assessment of how long it is likely to take me to clear and sort the plot and therefore how I need to priorities what I do when. I hope to get up to the allotment most days, weather permitting.

First Hour's Work
Second Hour's Work

Judging by my first two stints, I seem to be able to rough dig 3.2m2 (aprox. 34 square feet, which sounds a lot better) in an hour. So a 4m x 4m bed will take 5 hours and a 2m x 4m bed 2.5 hours. I imagine that some beds will be easier than others, as the couch grass takes a long time to clear, but is unevenly distributed across the plot. Apparently some people have plots completely clear of it, have never had it, whilst elsewhere it is rampant. Mine appears to be part way between the extremes. Anyway, it means it will take me around 20 hours total to rough dig the whole plot excluding the long side beds. I’m hoping that means that, allowing for periods of bad weather, by the end of February I will have rough dug all the existing beds.

Mind you, I think with the current bed I will finish rough digging it, mark out the new beds for that area, dig out the paths and enrich the soil before moving on to the next one. Not only will this give me a feel for how long those different phases will take, this is going to become my fruit patch, and I met the couple who are taking on the half plot currently entirely devoted to soft fruit. They confirmed they will be putting up signs inviting other allotment holders to help themselves to the contents of the beds they want to clear for other crops, so I want to be able to take advantage of that and give any free fruit I can come by a good head start!

Yesterday was a lovely sunny day, though the wind was biting, so I took Cameron (the VW camper) up to the plot with a couple of old plastic garden chairs, a flask of milk for making tea on the van stove, and lunch. The plan was to do two one hour stints leaving me free to “enjoy” the football today.

Cameron's Home From Home

I was able to park the van quite close to plot, and happily one of the other allotment holders (a man of indeterminate age and only two teeth) was able to give me the code to the gate. This means that next time I will be able to drive right to the edge of the allotments – and could drive on to the site itself if I needed to drop off something heavy. My mobile kitchen/shed/shelter proved its worth even before I had set foot on the plot, as the camera ran out of batteries as I tried to take a photograph in the lovely sunshine.

Saved By The Van
Batteries from Cameron

Happily we always keep a supply of batteries in one of the van’s many storage lockers for when we are camping, so I was able to change the batteries and carry on.

It was lovely being up there in bright sunshine, and because it was a Saturday I met more people. A long chat with one of the established allotment holders established that he had been stationed on Anglesey at RAF Valley and used to love watching the surfers on Rhosneigr. Perhaps more usefully he gave me the name of a good soft fruit nursery that supplies bare rooted plants and apparently offers really good advice over the phone – Deacons on the Isle of Wight – and told me the prevailing wind direction. The gentleman with the challenged dental work gave me the somewhat less welcome news that they have a big problem with wire worms attacking the potatoes on the site. He told me that one of the other allotment holders had found that if you put 2-3 organic slug pellets in with each tuber at planting time you get a worm-free crop. I assume this doesn’t also kill off the good worms or insect life, I want to check in to it more, but it shows how valuable it is to have more experienced gardeners with local knowledge to learn from. It was also lovely to meet two of the other new plot holders, we should be able to encourage one another and sympathise with one another.

After Four Hours

I left the plot just as the sky started to darken with cloud, happy to have made a start and grateful to have the opportunity to garden in such a lovely location. I got home to find that the latest Dobies catalogue, together with an order form, had been pushed through the door. I have until 26th January to get my order in to take advantage of the discount, so I will calm my pre match nerves (I’m a Liverpool supporter, and we are playing Manchester United in the FA cup) by starting to plan what to (try to) grow this year.

What To Grow

As well as the Dobies catalogue I have several books, Lia Leendertz’s “The Half Hour Allotment”, Andi Clevely’s “The Allotment Book” and Carol Klein’s “How to Grow Your Own Veg”, each of which has recommendations of which varieties to plant for flavour and vigour. Before I get all over excited over what to buy I need to do a seed audit of what I already have.

Seed Audit
No More Carrots

Some of these are 3 years old, bought when we were going to stay and garden on Anglesey longer, and many won’t be viable, but somehow I don’t think I can justify buying more carrots…

34 thoughts on “Blistering on…

  1. Hahahaha thanks for the link! You are quite motivated and I think your plans of working a certain amount of time each visit is very realistic. When the task is so large one can become overwhelmed. Nice bunch of worms!

    1. Hi Janet, you’re welcome! I do rather love my worms, they seem plentiful and agile!

  2. Wow, what a lot of work you’ve done already! I love the van, we used to have a small camper that was similar. Park it anywhere and you can cook, rest, take a nap, use the facilities, read a book. oh I miss that camper.

    1. Campers are rather wonderful. Thank you for saying you think I’ve done a lot already – I thought it looked a little pathetic looking back at the photos afterwards, but I know I need to be patient and just chip away at it and enjoy the process.

  3. You have made a lot of progress. You have a healthy stock of worms and therefore nice rich soil. It is such a nice idea to share the bounty and that makes gardening such an enjoyable and worthwhile endeavor. Good gardening to you and I will keep watching all your hard work.

    1. Thanks Donna. I am really lucky with the soil and the worms, and love the sharing side of it too. So far everyone I’ve met has been warm and friendly, I think it will be a lovely place to spend time.

  4. When the time comes I am going to vote for this post as the best soil picture of the year. I used toi have a piece of soil just like this but without the brown bit in the lower right corner.

    1. I know, I’ve heard such horror stories I can’t quite believe my luck to be honest, it makes such a difference. Now I just have to carry on stewarding the soil so that whoever comes after me also feels lucky.

  5. Sounds like a great start Janet! Remember though “Rome wasn’t built in a day”… At the rate you’re going you will have no trouble getting the plot operational in time for Spring sowing and planting. At least it looks as if you have not got any major, major obstacles to overcome – like a thicket of briars or something.
    I was thinking of you the other evening when I watched the first-ever episode of “The Good Life” on TV – the one in which Tom digs up the front lawn of his house in Surbiton with the ancient rotovator! (Presumably the allotment site has a No-goats policy…?)

    1. I loved “The Good Life”! Sadly, not only no goats, but no chickens either…

  6. Here’s an idea for you: Add ground alfalfa meal to the soil. It contains a natural plant growth hormone that will boost your plants. I’ve been using it for over 10 years. It’s just alfalfa horse pellets all ground up. Cottonseed meal will also help acidify the alkaline portion of your garden if you want to change the pH. It will also make your worms happy!

    1. Now that is something I had never heard of! Thank you, and just found an online source for both. Will have to try that out!

  7. I’m curious – what are the months of your growing season? Here I thought we were similar, and as I look out on a sunny, but typical 20 degree (F) day – I see it’s not even close! (I’ll just live vicariously through you for the next 3 months!!) –Shyrlene

    1. Hi Shyrlene. Its definitely winter here still, and we will get the possibility of frosts until early/mid sometimes even late May. Round here in the South West we start to sow tender summer plants like tomatoes any time from February onwards, but indoors or in a heated greenhouse. I won’t be sowing or planting potatoes tubers up at the allotment until early Spring, which probably means early March depending on what they tell me works up there as it is more exposed than my own garden. All I will be doing between now and March is getting the ground ready for cultivation and starting some broad beans off in the greenhouse.

  8. Wow – you’ve been doing great work.

    It is very satisfying to see freshly dug earth (even for no dig enthusiasts like me – its good to get things set up well at the beginning).

    I love your van – it will be very useful on rainy days on the allotment – and well help make up for not having a shed, as you can duck in for a quick cup of tea.

    We have a lovely little Mazda Bongo van – we LOVE it – campers really are great.

    Its great that you’re getting to know your fellow allotmenteers (thats one thing you don’t get in your own private garden – banter, camaraderie and advice !)

    As for your old seeds, try some out for viability. Thats what I’m doing at the moment (I was just about to blog about it funnily enough). I have old seeds from 2008 that are still good – esp peas and beans, but tomatoes last a long time too.

    I ‘sprout’ mine, like I would sprout alfalfa and mung beans. I soak them for 6 – 12 hours and then put them in a sprouter (you could use some moistened kitchen roll). An airing place is the ideal spot for them to germinate quickly. That way, I know what I might have to buy more of and what I can reuse.

    Love the carrot seed glut .. you’d be a long time before buying another carrot if they’re all good!

    1. Hi Ferris. Yes, I’m hoping this is pretty much the last time I will have to do any digging at the plot other than when planting, though that does rely on me being able to mulch the beds heavily in the Autumn. I won’t be the only one trying to garden like that at the allotments, although most of the others have raised beds.

      I’d been thinking about trying out seed viability. One of my books says that aubergine, celeriac, cucumber, onions, peppers, squash and tomato seed can all remain viable for 4 years or more. Apparently I can expect carrot, beetroot, brassica, lettuce and leek seed to last up to 3 years, beans, peas and sweetcorn only 2, and parsnip seed needs to be used immediately. In some cases I am just going to give it a go, and buy fresh if early sowings have very poor germination.

  9. Hi it looks like you will have a lot of work destined for your hands before those plots will be completely tilled. You’re lucky your climate is not as hot and humid as ours, or else you wont be able to work after 9:00am, a time which if you start at 7am you will be completely soaked in sweat. So, happy gardening and may you harvest fully this season.

    1. Oh goodness, I wouldn’t even be attempting to work like this in your climate! I’ve helped cultivate a garden in Arizona, but in Autumn and even then we’d stop work around midday, and anyway that was a dry heat. Working in high humidity is so energy sapping. Here I am more likely to get blue fingers and ears!

  10. how I wish I lived close by..I would gladly come over and help dig…my favorite part of gardening is the digging…I need to get to work doing a better job of planning this year…lots of great ideas and you have taught me a thing or 2….I have a soil tester but have always been too busy to take the time…this year I plan on using it…sending lots of good gardening vibes from the snowy states as you continue on your journey… helps me with my withdrawals right now!!

    1. Hi Donna, drat, I wish you loved closer too! I enjoy digging, but its much more fun when you share the burden and lighten the work with chatter. Thank you for the snowy good vibes, and please don’t get stressed about more planning, guilt can take all the fun out of it. Am having to be a good girl and get on with some indoor non gardening jobs today, but tomorrow is due to be sunny and my new compost bins for the allotment have arrived…

  11. So relieved that you are a Liverpool FC supporter :) One of the pleasures of having an allotment is the support and generosity of fellow plot holders ~ from what you say you’ve already encountered it. Good luck with the seed audit ~ I’m at the same stage but it’s all part of the fun.

    1. Fabulous! I feared I might be alone in being a female gardening football supporter. Seed audit half way through, and am already mentally reassigning the allotment beds to make more room for things… Heaven help me when I get to the seed ordering part!

  12. You’ve started nice and early in your allotment, and the soil looks good with all those worms doing their good deeds. Love your VW Camper btw! I’m a fan and I even have a small scale model of the same colour in our study!

    1. I knew you had excellent taste when I saw your garden ;-) Thanks for visiting.

  13. Janet, How delicious to have a nice healthy clay soil teeming with worms! I am so enjoying your excitement and journey! Cameron is beautiful~gail

    1. Isn’t it wonderful? The things we gardeners get excited about… Glad you like Cameron! He puts a smile on my face even on a really dull day, and he is currently loaded up with the new compost bins and a storage seat ready for tomorrow…

  14. Janet, I’m so impressed with the amount of work you’ve achieved and your uber organised approach. The couch grass is not good news though easier to manage in such well worked soil. Th ph tests gave some interesting results and show how different microclimates can exist in very close proximity. Just wandered if you ever considered square foot gardening on your new plot? Love your van and guess we’ll have tales from the allotment folk to look forward to ;)

    1. Hi Laura. I’ve read a little about square foot gardening, and may well look in to it more before Spring as it looks as if it might suit my time and energy limitations, thanks for the reminder! Apparently I have already become somewhat notorious myself, as the woman who insisted on seeing her new plot even though it was snowing…

  15. Well here I am a hardened gardener dedicated to growing flowering annuals, perennials and shrubs etc for the past 40 years. Just about got me convinced that its time I was also growing veg. I think that I am the only one who watched the good life first time around.

    1. Go on, go for it! You won’t regret it! Planting a few things you really like in amongst your ornamentals, or in pots, would be a great way to get hooked… I watched “The Good Life” first time too, it was family viewing when I was growing up. My Dad rather fancied Barbara, but also, secretly, Margo…

  16. Great to see your allotment have healthy soil! Is always great to have a good start when gardening. By the way, love the VW van!

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