Allotment Days

Words by Nick Love

It is with a certain smug satisfaction that I pay my rent for next year. I have unexpectedly reached the second milestone in my quest to convert my 125 square metres of overgrown, weed infested, badly compacted and nutrient-deficient soil to the cultivation of herb, flower, fruit and vegetable crops.

I have 75% of my plot under cultivation. No weed notices or cultivation notices for me.

This occurrence has come about through the perfect storm of a surfeit of weeds, a broken contract, the beautiful sunny weather at the end of September/early October and the necessity to make the most of the precious daylight as the clocks go back.

In my first year my target was 50%, which I achieved by a combination of techniques which I will explain to you in due course. I have amalgamated my old onion bed and my concurbits patch into one large area by forking through them and the dry compacted swathe of previously untouched soil that separated them, pulling out the roots of perennial weeds for burning later.

The thunderstorms and biblical deluges played their part in breaking up the lumps allowing me to rake the surface to a semblance of a tilth but not a fine one. For once the weather was on my side. This super bed accounts for almost 25% of my plot.

After cropping of cucumbers, courgettes and squash for two years and the onion bed failing to produce more than a handful of broad beans this year, I have decided to improve the quality of the soil by sowing a green manure. This is a cheaper alternative to buying horse manure.

I am sowing a mixture of Italian Ryegrass, Cocksfoot and Red Clover. This mix produces lots of green foliage, suppresses weeds if sewn heavily and is deep rooting if allowed at least 10 months growth. I am going to leave it till March 2016 before digging it in.

This will let me crop it several times to use as compost. It should crowd out all but the most tenacious perennial weeds. And, hopefully break up the clay and flint subsoil whilst introducing loads of organic matter to improve my soil quality. It will give me a low maintenance area which is counted as under cultivation, and this will allow me to shift my efforts to other areas requiring attention.

I have planted my early broad beans, garlic and winter onions under nets to deter the birds. I will plant a few early peas too. And as the weather gets colder, I will spend November trimming trees, leaving the cut branches in a pile to offer a winter home to hedgehogs, and a number of insect species.

Advice for newbies
November/December is the month when new tenants are offered or take up plots. The key things to look for when selecting an allotment are:

1.     Orientation – South facing is best.
2.     Exposure to the winds.
3.     Evidence of previous cultivation.
4.     Identifying any non-weed species that you may want to retain.
5.     Secondary considerations may include:
6.     The condition of the adjoining plots.
7.     Proximity to a standpipe.
8.     Existing structures and other artefacts bequeathed by the previous tenant.
9.     Other irrational considerations based on individual whim.

Nick Love has been a co-worker on an allotment for five years