There is a certain bleak beauty to allotments at this time of year. Everything tends to look a little worn and tired, a few battered brassicas holding on, lots of bean teepees, draped in the remnants of twining plants like skeletons of summer. I’ve had my plot just over a year now. Like all newbies I was full of plans, brimming with enthusiasm. I loved my first year, the clearing of the plot, the planning and planting, the experiments, the triumphs (beans and peas) and disasters (brassicas…). Towards the end of last summer I started to plan for the winter. I was going to cover all the bare soil with green manure, ready to dig in come Spring and give everything a kick start in the new growing season. That failed, because none of it germinated well. Then I was going to cover it all with a nice thick blanket of manure and/or compost, for the worms to dig in for me. That failed too, because I became too ill to even get up to the plot let alone weed beds and barrow manure.
I finally got back up to the plot at the weekend, thanks to FIL giving me a lift up there – I’m still too ill to get up there under my own steam, which is infuriating. There were signs of a new batch of plot holders taking to their new plots with a vengeance, creating immaculately mulched raised beds and impressively engineered plant supports. My plot does not look like this…
Sadly I also noticed that the allotment secretary’s plot is looking far from its normal immaculate self, which suggests that N has still not recovered from the knee injury he suffered last year. Sometimes even apparent neglect tells a story.
Our own little patch is looking extremely scruffy, with beds full of weeds and left over crops, but I was glad to see that the fields hadn’t reclaimed it, you could still tell that there was an effort to cultivate. It all looks rather depressing at the moment, but actually it won’t take long to get looking a lot better, and since FIL is shortly going to be properly retired, even if I can’t get up there very often he will make short work of getting things back into some sort of shape.
I’d still prefer raised beds, and our narrow strips separated by a mix of crazy paving and rough grass will never win any prizes, but the 1m width works really well for us, and although ideally I would prefer wider paths, I am still pleased with how I took the skeleton of the pre-existing beds and made them work for us.
The main casualties were, as expected, the various structures. Amazingly, the netting over the sprouts was still standing proud and straight over its cage of linked bamboo canes. Funny, really, since the sprout plants are total failures and don’t need protection from anything other than my disapointment! Inevitably it is the netting cage over the lush purple sprouting broccoli plants that took a beating in the winter gales, because I used thinner bamboo canes which slip through the connectors. Even so, no damage to the plants, which were a gift from M, an expert allotment holder who seems permanently amused by me. The fine netting tunnel that had been protecting the brassicas all year had partially collapsed under the weight of the lumps of ice that were all that remained of the snowfall. We hate this tunnel, it is a pain in the posterior to get into to weed, and in any case lots of the brassicas still got eaten. In the future I plan to build wood frames covered in the netting that can be easily lifted off to weed and then replaced. In the mean time, we are doing away with it. Following my motto of always leaving the plot looking a little better than when I arrived, FIL made a start on pruning the raspberries while I demolished the tunnel.
I know, it still looks scruffy, but at least it was a start. I have a busy couple of weeks coming up, with visitors and attendant catering, but hopefully come mid March I will be able to start getting well enough to visit the plot under my own steam and start to help tweak it back into shape. We’ll be concentrating on growing the things that seem to be more straight forward and that we know we love to eat, so loads of beans and peas, carrots, beetroot, and no chard. I’ve tried, but I just don’t like it! I won’t be able to resist trying cabbages again, though quite how they will fare without any protection bar a collar remains to be seen. I’ve ordered plenty of potatoes too, and hopefully this year we will keep on top of the watering and get a better crop. I’m not sure whether the various spring brassicas I planted as plug plants will do anything useful, but the perpetual spinach is looking promising, and I plan to sow plenty of salad onions and of course lots of lettuces and more courgettes. I feel a spark of excitement re-igniting, fanned by the sight of 7 out of 10 of the broad bean seeds I sowed without much hope back in the Autumn growing away bravely at the back of the plot.
So, not the best plot in the world, but not the worst either, and most importantly of all, a place it is still a joy to visit, even briefly. I may have to keep adjusting my expectations due to things outside my control, but just over one year on, I am still delighted I took the plunge and joined the varied ranks of the allotment holders.