Following on from part 1 of my latest allotment update we’re back to planning – and me changing my mind…

With FIL’s help we have dug over and marked out the front left bed. The plan had been to have two 2m x 1m beds and add them in to the crop rotation plan, giving us a four year cycle of legumes, brassicas, roots and potatoes. Then in this month’s “Gardener’s World” who should pop up but Alan Titchmarsh suggesting that instead of potatoes you use the fourth bed for summer veg like corn, squash etc. Crop rotation is all about minimising disease by not planting the same crops in the same place year after year, and organising your growing so that you can easily treat all veg needing similar conditions the same. It also means that e.g. the legumes fix nitrogen into the soil, so by leaving the roots in the ground the brassicas that follow them get a good feed. There are almost as many crop rotation schemes as there are gardeners. I started off going with a three year plan, but you also get four and even five year plans, not to mention the rather more flexible square foot gardening approach. It all gets rather complicated.

In digging over the beds I have been learning what has been grown where, and used this to plan out which crops to start in which of the three long beds. The back two beds both had corn grown in them, so I had been wanting to try corn in the front left beds to mix things around. But corn needs to be block sown because it is wind pollinated, and although I would probably get away with blocks of 3 x 4, the conventional 1.2m wide beds allow the more standard 4 x 4 blocks, or even 4 x 6. Add to that the fact that the front left bed has been used for potatoes, and I’ve wound up returning to my three year rotation scheme for the three long thin beds and marking up the front left bed differently.

Front Left Bed

Instead of two 1m wide beds lined up with the central beds we are going for a 1.2m wide bed oriented the other way, with a narrow path and another, 0.7m bed at the front. I admit to having “stolen” some extra space at the front of the plot to fit this in, but it means I can still have a cutting garden, and that I will have three 4m x 1.2m beds to rotate potatoes, corn, squash etc. through. This just feels much better somehow, and means I can experience the pros and cons of working with two different bed widths.

I’m excited about having a strip of flowers – at least initially – along the front of some of the plot, and in the future I could always grow garlic or onions here. It also means that flowers will be spread quite well across the whole area, which should help pollination.

Front Right Bed

The front right bed holds the very happy rhubarb, but as you can see, the rhubarb is planted on a mound. We hit solid stony subsoil when trying to dig the planting hole, so the perennial bed will become a raised bed just as soon as we have decided what we are going to use to achieve this. TNG found an old pallet in a hedge on one of his walks, so we are going to check it out before resorting to buying anything. Freecycle is coming up empty so far and in any case we aren’t well enough to career round Bristol picking stuff up.

Starting Back Left Bed

My last act before retiring, exhausted, to nurse my blisters and back ache, was to mark out and make a symbolic start on the back left bed. You can also see that I have begun using the many, many stones we keep digging up to cover the membrane marking out the paths. The 70cm width seems to be working well, quite easy to manoeuvre a wheelbarrow round, and providing I don’t use the larger stones it runs over the stone-filled paths well too. I will need to use knee pads to sow and weed though…

We’ve not finished preparing the plot, but I am proud of the progress we have made, and with less than a quarter of the beds still to dig over it does begin to feel as if we are approaching the end of the beginning. Its been great having some help up there. Its also been great to start meeting fellow allotment holders. For instance, I now know that getting permission for the allotment site took so long because an ex planning officer who sits on the parish council and likes to wield political power claimed it represented “the urbanisation of the countryside” (!) and fought it all the way. But. I’m with Fay@The Wind and the Wellies. My idea of heaven is a few hours of solitary digging and other grafting under sunny blues skies in a beautiful location. Wednesday was wonderful.

Allotment View 2nd March 2011

28 thoughts on “(Almost) the end of the beginning Part 2

  1. Your allotment is really taking shape. All the hard work you have put in shows, your plot is looking very ship shape. Crop rotation can be a headache sometimes, I follow a four year rotation for the main crops and then fit the other things in where I can.

    1. Thanks Jo. Now I just to have grow some stuff! I think I’ll be OK with the crop rotation once I’ve finally settled on a plan. This could be it. Or I might change my mind again. Who knows…

  2. Let me just say along with all the others that all the hard work you have put in already will hold you in good stead not just for this season but many more to come. You have Invested time and effort this year that will be reaped for many more to come, in the buzz phrase of the day you have “Front Loaded” your efforts. Its not all down hill gardening from here but believe me in my experience, you have given yourself the best chance.
    As for the “old stick in the mud” who objects to the urbanisation of the countryside, we no longer live in times when the landed gentry can keep the Oiks off their land, its not theirs in the first place and there is no finer pursuit in the world than using a plot to feed yourself and your family.

    1. Thank you NI. You have our ex planner down perfectly! he has an enormous garden within which he can grow stuff. Those of us not quite as lucky really need the allotment site. Its a brilliant use of what was just a field, with the orchard, owl boxes, apiary and soon a cricket pitch and 5 aside pitch. It is drawing people together, getting them outside, turning a field into a resource for the whole village. We oiks are very happy :-)

  3. I’m interested to know how you knew what had 9previously) been grown where. What evidence did you find?
    Also disappointed to hear how the whims of one bureaucrat can dominate the situation. Councils ought to be encouraging more people to use allotments, not making it difficult. Not only is growing veg good for you in the nutritional sense, but also in the exercise sense. Just think how many calories you must have expended on your plot already!

    1. Hi Mark. No cleverness on my part – just kept finding onions rotting in the ground broccoli stalks, corn stalks, potato tubers. They had walked away from the plot mid season and just left it all.

      You are right about the allotments being good for us in the broadest possible sense, though after this weekend I think I would need to dig over at least another two plots to burn off what I have enjoyed eating and drinking ;-)

  4. Oh Janet, I am loving seeing you end up the beginning of taming this allottment! So much promise in that soil, it already looks very good to me. Your plans sound fun and tasty, love the stack of silver birch logs, an artsy touch. Having flowers to cut along with food to harvest is the best of the best. Good luck with it and we look forward to living vicariously through your efforts. :-)

    1. Thank you Frances, I really enjoy sharing it all. Its such an adventure to me, and I am looking forward to sharing triumphs and disasters alike – and hopefully getting some great tips and tricks from those more experienced.

  5. Janet, I really like your nectar bar, and so will the little visitors. But with all the work and hard digging, what I would most enjoy is meeting other allotment owners. That would be such a joy to talk with and work with others having the same interest and love. Your new garden is looking like all your hard work is paying off. Wait till the produce shows! Yum.

    1. You’re right Donna, meeting and chatting to other people also in to veg growing is lovely. I’ve met some really interesting people!

  6. wonderful progress…I learn so much from your planning…it forces me to go and check my plans which are not as well thought out…the lush green and brown of your allotment makes me long for my raised beds…by the time you are planted I will still be planning but all things in due time…

    1. Hi Donna, I actually daydream about the day that I don’t need to do as much planning because I have enough experience to just be able to do it all more by feel! In the mean time, planning – and re-planning – is a major part of my life!

  7. You are getting on well. Maybe the planning officer was biding his time before agreeing to have it built on!

    1. Hi Sue. I gather he is a rather unpleasant character who enjoys power.

      1. I think the council give allotments to their weak links – we have had problems with our officer too!

        1. Worse than that – its not council-run allotments, a trust was formed by a bunch of people in the village to buy the land and set it up for use by the community, including the orchard and allotments but also a cricket pitch etc. The ex planning guy (now retired) sits on the Parish Council. The Parish Council is in charge of the main playing fields but not the trust land, so this guy who is so used to wielding power locally is cut out of a grass roots initiative. Personally I think that’s probably why he fought it all the way and now is constantly on the lookout for ways in which the trust are abusing their power or breaking the agreements about usage.

  8. How planting gardens and encouraging wildlife represents urbanization is somewhat beyond me. Sounds like this person was just looking for a reason to be unreasonable. So glad you finally got your lot. The work is coming along quite quickly by your photos. I completely understand the planning planning and re-planning then changing your mind yet again. Seems no matter what plan I make what actually happens in the end is always somewhat different than I anticipated.

    1. Hello Marguerite, hope you’ve warmed up since your sleigh ride! I think, for me, the continual replanning – and associated dreaming – is an essential part of gardening. And like you come the moment to put a piece of the current plan into action I frequently more than tweak the details… Just as well I’ve never wanted to be a garden designer professionally, though perhaps that training and experience would mean the planning process was faster and less convoluted. I agree about the urbanisation stance, utterly ridiculous.

  9. Still getting to grips with crop rotation after five years ~ it does not help when I can’t remember what I planted where last year. I have a bit of paper somewhere but can’t find it. Changing your mind is par for the course Janet :) Find it difficult to understand the logic of the ex planning officer :(

    1. Hello Anna, part of the reason for blogging about the allotment is the hope that it will mean I have something less easy to lose than my bits of paper to refer back to – having the memory of a goldfish rather than an elephant gets in the way of horticultural organisation! I suspect the ex planning officer is beyond understanding. Good luck with your paper chase, though I suspect it all matters rather less than I, as a beginner, tend to believe it might. If it grows and is healthy, it is working!

  10. Hello Janet, I like your progress, your posts give pleasure even to non veg growers like myself. What about salad leaves are you likely to get away with having this in the same spot year after year. Have you heard that planting French Marigolds along with your veg can help keep away pests.

    1. Hi Alistair, glad to hear you are enjoying your spot of vicarious veg growing! Salad leaves and lettuces can be put in as a so-called catch crop in between other things that will take longer to mature. Plus they are more disease resistant, so I am going to happily spread them around and use them as an ornamental as well as delicious lunches. I am planning to try several companion plant recipes, and marigolds will be one of them, although I will also probably cover a lot of the crops prone to diseases.

  11. Mmmm Hmmm. Sunny day, digging in the dirt. Can’t beat it! I love the way your so honest about your decision-making process. And it’s so fun to follow your progress!

    1. Glad you enjoy the tales of my vacillations, I’d feel less than honest about it if I didn’t share the constant re-thinking. Yesterday I got given some strawberry runners – more turmoil as I debated where to put them having just rescued enough raspberry canes from elsewhere on the plot and therefore filled the designated strawberry patch…

  12. I meant to comment on this post yesterday. I really struggle with crop rotation at times, mainly because our vegetable garden is work in progress and being added to all the time – which makes it hard to to stick firm to a decision.

    Things are always changing. For example, the constant wet weather recently has drawn our attention to a couple of our beds suffering from poor drainage, so more work needed there but it also means that we cannot plant long season or overwintering crops in them until we have sorted the problem out. Or, we just shove squashes in them and let them enjoy the moist soil and legumes that will only occupy the beds during milder weather and for a shorter amount of time. Then of course there are all the other veg that one wishes to grow……….the list is never ending but it’s all part of the fun of gardening!

    Your doing great, all the planning ahead will pay off in the end.

    1. Hi Karen, thanks for the encouraging comments. Its good to know that other – and more experienced – people find that re-planning is just as much a part of the veg growing side of things as it tends to be in the ornamentals arena. Very comforting! Good luck sorting the soggy raised beds, though using them for squashes makes a lot of sense to me.

  13. I have rhubarb envy…….!

    Is there anything better than sheer hard graft followed by fruit/veg/flowers and of course bread?!

    As for crop rotation – tried to teach it, got in a tangle – you’re right there are as many methods as gardeners!!!!and, being difficult I like veggies and flowers together :)

    1. I have been extremely lucky to have been given such a wonderful specimen! I like the flowers-with-veg thing too, but apparently the pigeons and cabbage whites mean I will need to net most of my veges, so rather diminishing the beauty of the flowers. But there will be lots of flowers!

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