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…

Immaculate New Plot

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.

Neglected Plot

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.

Weedy Beds

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.

Battered Structures

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.

Some Progress

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.

Broad Bean Seedlings

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.

40 thoughts on “Adjusting Expectations

  1. Glad that you have help to turn your plot over. Enjoy your visitors and I hope you are feeling better when you reclaim some time to get up to the plot next month. For a winter allotment, it doesn’t look too bad at all – although it will be unrecognisable again in a few short months.
    You have had better luck with your autumn sown broad beans than we have. About half of ours seemed to germinate, and many of those have disappeared since. Hmm. Time to sow some more this weekend!

    1. Thanks Sara – I was amazed to see the broad beans, I expected any that managed to germinate to have been eaten by the slugs! Good luck with your sowing. I want to do some myself, though perhaps not this weekend.

  2. Winter is always a scruffy time in the garden. I think you have done wonders in your allotment. That netting would make me crazy too, having to crawl into it to weed…ugh! I hope you continue to get stronger. Spring is coming, think the longer days and milder temps help the body and the soul.

    1. Hi Janet, it is wonderful to feel the days getting longer again, I hope I spring forth like the bulbs that are pushing their way up! The netting tunnel was a nightmare, TNG and FIL cheered when I said it was going.

  3. I grew chard too but I’m not a great fan. The young leaves are nice in omlettes but once the leaves get quite big I don’t really like the flavour. I’m just going to use them as baby leaves for salads this year. I’ve just been up to my plot and done a bit of tidying up. I had problems with my green manure as well. The phaecelia did well but I sowed this in August anything I sowed later germinated very patchily so didn’t really provide the soil with the intended protection. We had such a dry autumn though I think that caused problems for the seeds trying to germinate. It’s good to hear you’re excited by the growing season ahead. Hope you feel better and stronger as the days go by. Best wishes, Wellywoman

    1. Hi, I feel daft, I hadn’t really thought about growing chard for baby leaves, but I love it in salads, so thank you, something to do with the remaining seeds! I remember you saying about your green manure woes, and I think you are right, it was the dry Autumn that played havoc with everything. I’m going to grow some phaecelia again this year but purely for the pollinators – and because it is so pretty. Thanks for the good wishes.

  4. Once the weather turns and you get a bit of sun of your bones you will soon get your plot sorted – a bit at a time soon gets it finished. And there is still plenty of time till the soil warms up.

    1. Hi Elaine, that’s very true, the soil is almost frozen in places, impossible to weed at the moment. Still, hopefully it will help to kill of some bugs.

  5. Good to see some update on the allotment even if it has remained untouched for quite some time, then again it’s winter. I hope you’ll feel much better in a couple of weeks so come March time you’ll be tending to the allotment with a full vengeance. The spark is definitely still there :)

    1. Hi guys, here’s hoping! The spirit is most definitely willing, even more so since some new seeds plopped onto the mat yesterday begging to be sown…

  6. I liked your words “bleak beauty” Janet. I was looking at my plot with similar thoughts going through my head on Sunday afternoon. It was drizzling and cold and I just wanted to get back home as quickly as possible. In fact the allotment was the last place I wanted to be. I am sure that once it starts to warm up a bit the energy and inspiration will return. It sounds as if you have an excellent labourer at your disposal which will give you a head start. Remember that you are not in competition with the other plots and stick to your excellent maxim of “growing the things that seem to be more straight forward and that we know we love to eat”. Happy growing in 2012 :)

    1. Hi Anna, that sounds like a rotten plot experience, there is something so dispiriting about drizzle, as if it can’t quite be bothered to do more! I’m glad I have a year of plotting under my belt, so to speak, since I know I don’t need to panic about how much I haven’t done. Last year several of the plots that I thought deserted became, over the space of a few weeks in April, suddenly tidy and productive, and remained that way until the Autumn. Granted, I’d like to get my potatoes in a little before then, but as you say, I have a willing labourer on hand. Happy plotting in 2012 Anna, may your crops flourish and your pests all die!

  7. Interesting how gardens can tell you so much about a person, from their tastes to their health. Even though you’d like it to be more pulled together, your allotment still says lots of positive things about you and your interest in keeping it up. As far as the entire allotment model of gardening, it seems so unusual to me, a person in the property-obsessed US. Here we do have some community gardens, mostly used by folk who have no garden space at all. But the idea of me going off-site to garden seems like a recipe for disaster. So much of what I do is with minutes cobbled together throughout my day. Very little is from purposeful time set aside to garden. It seems like you’d need that kind of discipline to keep up an allotment!

    1. Hi James, there is much that is wonderful about having an allotment, not least the location and the camaraderie. The major downside is the one you pick up on, it is hard, if not impossible, to just do a 10 minute swoop in between other activities. Once you have got yourself there you feel honour bound to do at least half an hour. For me, it is better than not having anywhere to grow edibles, but I am looking forward to being able to do it in my own back garden, in pyjamas if I want!

  8. I think it all looks rather normal and natural. And as you say, with a little springtime clean-up, it will be ready for the next growing season. I’m not a huge fan of the taste of Swiss Chard, either. But it is such a beautiful vegetable! I wonder if it would work in floral arrangements. I suppose it would just flop over after a day. Oh well, it is lovely as a plant! I’m looking forward to the longer days, too!

    1. Chard does seem to flop terribly, I tend to bung it in a jug of water when I get back from the plot before cooking it that evening, but I am rather enamoured of the idea of growing it as a baby leaf salad plant. That way I get some of the beauty but with all the taste those larger leaves seem to lack. Roll on Spring!

    1. Its that time of year isn’t it – though my rosemary has been flowering sporadically all through the winter! We won’t talk about the thyme, however…

  9. It is a wonderful feeling when you begin to feel better and more able to begin gardening life again. Lucky you having a FIL to help. Christina

    1. Hi Christina, FIL certainly helps a lot, as does the arrival of some new sweet pea seeds. Time to get my hands in the compost again…

  10. I’m off to my plot for an hour after work today – think I have only been once this year. There are new plot holders at ours too, lots of neat raised beds but interestingly some of those that started last year when I did and put lots of effort in seem to have vanished again.

    You are right some of the neglected beds tell stories. One of our very keen members didnt seem have been near his plot for weeks if not months and there was speculation that this was because he had lost interest due to some contaminated manure he had but I have seen signs of activity again which is good.

    I am sure that going down the plot again even if you dont do much will help you get better, its better than sitting at home worrying


    1. Hi Helen, I have so much admiration for you, keeping an allotment going while working too. You must long for the lighter evenings even more than I do!

      Funny, isn’t it, how apparently successful plot holders can suddenly up sticks and disappear. On the other hand, the people who have the half plot behind me steadfastly refuse to give their plot back, despite doing nothing to it apart from strim the grass down for most of last year!

      In the mean time, I have seeds to sow, and once our visitors have gone and the soil is workable, some weeding to take on.

  11. I don’t like chard either even though it is good to look at!

    If you have club root problems with your brassicas there are club root resistant varieties to try. That did the trick for us and sprouts this year

    1. Hi Sue, it has been something of a relief to realise I am not exactly alone on not liking chard, it is always presented as a “must grow” crop, I suppose because it is easy and colourful – and nutritious if you can work out how to cook it well. I hadn’t thought about club root, I’ll bear that in mind, thank you!

  12. So sorry to hear that you have not recovered, it is so frustrating isn’t it to see the work that needs doing and not being able to get out there to do it! I’m in the same boat with my polymyalgia, just had a relapse and almost back to square one. The one area in the garden which hasn’t been tidied at all is the vegetable garden, maybe because we don’t see it from the houise, but I think we will have to make a start soon, I’m sure I can do some weeding sitting down by the raised beds, will have to try it anyway so that I can get started with some of my seeds I wish you better health in the coming weeks.

    1. Hi Pauline, so sorry to hear about your relapse, it is so very frustrating when there is so much you want to be doing, isn’t it. Here’s hoping we both find our health improving in the coming weeks and can be swapping stories of successful weeding and planting instead!

  13. Phoo on chard, anyway. I will admit to growing it only for the rainbow colors. :) We tried several different ways of preparing it last year, and couldn’t find any one we liked. Maybe you could grow a “sacrificial” patch of chard for the bunnies? I think of you often, with your house for sale soon…our weather is not yet warm enough to be out in the garden, but it is difficult not knowing how long, if at all, we will still be here to enjoy it.

    1. Hi Hanni, phoo indeed! I’m going to try growing the chard as baby leaves instead, see how that goes. Maybe the best of both worlds?

      It is really hard to know how to relate to a garden you intend to be leaving soon, isn’t it. I hope you find a buyer for your house soon so that you can start gardening in your new place. It is a strange feeling, not knowing where I will be this time next year, but being fairly sure I won’t be here. Mind you, I have said that before and here I am!

      Hope you get some gardening delights at some point this year, whatever else happens.

  14. Our whole garden looks a bit scruffy close up but with the milder weather and longer days I’m beginning to feel the urge to get out there again. Hope all your plans come to fruition and that you can enjoy your allotment again this year.
    BTW Our chard always bolts so it’s good to eat the leaves young.

    1. Hi Janet, eating chard as baby leaves definitely seems like the way to go. In a way I ma glad I will have visitors here for a while, it will stop me racing out and trying to do too much too soon, sometimes patience is rewarded, and the warmer soil will be easier to weed and seeds will germinate so much faster. In the mean time I can sow seeds in the greenhouse and start dreaming of summer harvests…

  15. Good for you for getting out there! No matter the outcome, it is worth a try at taming your own wild plot. … and my brussel sprouts did not turn out at all either. Try, try again they say.

    1. Indeed! I’ll certainly try growing sprouts again in the future. And the weeds will be easier to clear than the couch grass was last year.

  16. Your allotment looks perfectly wonderful to me. I think I always have a bit of garden envy when I see how much others are able to accomplish but as you point out, as long as you are getting enjoyment out of it, looks don’t matter none. and I like that you’ve tried to experiment a little with food (I’ve always been tempted by chard but doubt I would like it) and trying plants that require a bit more coddling. Part of the fun is the experimenting.

    1. Hi Marguerite, comparisons can be invidious, can’t they, as they are usually not based on complete information! I love the experimenting, and am looking forward to doing more again this year, possibly with more direct sowing as I won’t have the same time available for coddling things in the greenhouse to plant out. We’ll see! Another growing season, another set of adventures.

  17. Your plot looks fine to me. Now I’ve expanded into the next village I have to ignore the weeds as not all the plots get the attention that my back garden beds do but the veg still grows well. And they’re tougher than we think, your broad beans being a good example. None for me this year (or runners), the family aren’t keen and I’ve vowed to only grow veg that we all like to eat. More room for something else I guess!

    1. Hi Damo, thank you, that is very reassuring!! And you are right about veg being tougher than we think, I learnt that by watching my peas and beans thrive despite the surrounding weeds. Sorry your family doesn’t like broad beans and runners though, they are such satisfying – and to me, tasty – crops. But as you say, more room for whatever they do like to eat, and not much point growing things they don’t like.

  18. As you say allotment sites look rather forlorn through the winter but it’s getting lighter and warmer which certainly helps as far as plotting again after too much armchair gardening.
    I found that it took at least a couple of years to really start feeling happy with what I was doing. Here’s hoping that we all have a good year on our plots.
    Thanks for an interesting post, which should be read by all those who are new to vegetable growing and take on a plot as it illustrates the reality rather than the dream! Flighty xx

    1. Hi Flighty, the lighter and warmer days are a real boost, aren’t they. I am much more mellow about the way I am approaching this year’s plotting, and hopefully that will just get better year on year. More flowers and beetroot this year, and more watering if it is dry. Here’s hoping for a good year for growing things we love. And I am glad you appreciated the real-life look at my allotment, it is too tempting to only post the successes and tidy bits, but people do need to know that a scruffy plot at this time of year is not the end of the world! Or unusual…

  19. I hope you enjoy your visitors, Janet, and then have a loooong energy upswing headed your way. In the meantime, 3 cheers for your FIL…

    I’ll confess to liking chard, but I seldom eat it on its own–I throw it into a mix of other sauteeing greens like amaranth and mustard and sweet potato vine leaves. (I know–they’re all weird, but not many greens grow well in our summer heat.) The odd thing is that none of those is particularly enjoyable, but they seem to cancel each other out in a way that works. Not exactly a ringing endorsement…

  20. Janet your allotment looks tidier than my garden, I like your habit of leaving it better than when you arrived,
    I hope you have/had a nice time with your visitors and are getting better by the day, Frances
    ps I love purple too, love the flowers in you next post,

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