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.
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.
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.
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.