Part of the appeal of our move to the country was always the possibility of growing our own food. There was also vague talk of chickens, but more on that later. Obviously we were always going to try to acquire an allotment, trend of the century.
As all loyal followers of this blog will know, we live just over the road from some allotments. On first inspection, this seems the ideal set-up: our country home, and an allotment with all our vegetables just a few steps away. As there didn’t seem to be any plots going on this site however, we expressed interest in an allotment on another site, which is the other side of the village. As it happened, we were offered an allotment on this further site, and accepted it, on the same day as we were later offered another on the site over the road. We decided that as we work at home, hang out at home and spend most of our time at home, it might be good to have something that isn’t within arm’s reach in our lives, and stuck with our choice of the further allotment.
The map below shows the position of our house in relation to the allotments, at a distance of three quarters of a mile. There is a road that goes there, of course, but it is also possible to walk through the fields to get there, and this is the route I have marked.
The allotment itself is actually half of a long plot. It has been unused for a year, but was maintained before that. When we took it over, it was overgrown with grass, and there were a couple tiny (less than a square meter) beds where some onions were clinging to a semblance of life, and a rhubarb plant that had gone to seed lingered. There is also, however, a mature plum tree in the middle of the allotment. Here is how it looked when we first went to look at it:
Being complete allotment nubies, we had to figure out our first step. Some research pointed us to the fact that we needed to break up the ground, get rid of the grass, and turn the hard clay earth so that our plants would grow in it. We also realised we needed to fertilise. The first thing to do was the breaking up and turning over of the earth. Unfortunately for our ambitions, it has been an unusually dry spring, so the ground is extremely hard. We tried sticking a little gardening fork into it, and it was like trying to dig in concrete. So we turned to mechanical means.
We hired a rotavator and, of a Friday evening, we went to pick it up for the weekend. It was only on the way to the hire place that we started an earnest discussion about whether a rotavator would actually fit into our little car. Well, after much wrestling with the machine, and taking off any of its removable parts, we did manage to get it in. Let the photo below prove once and for all that you can, indeed, fit a rotavator into a vauxhall corsa.
The next day, a Saturday, we were set off for the allotment full of enthusiasm. But as we took stock of the situation, we realised that we weren’t exactly prepared for allotmenting: we had no spade, no fork, no gloves, no wheelbarrow. We did, however, have a big rotavator and a can of extra petrol, so there was little left to do but to get down to business!
Running the rotavator proved not to be the easiest job. In fact, it felt like trying to control a wild and unwilling mechanised beast that was doing its best to escape into the field rather than do its job and dig. The ground being very hard certainly didn’t help, but I eventually managed to work out a technique to get the thing to work.
Having intended to do the whole plot, we quickly decided that it would be enough of an accomplishment to get about two thirds of it done. We decided to leave the back, around the plum tree, which we can slowly turn into small growing beds by hand as the season moves on and when the ground is perhaps a bit softer. We are also wondering if not to use this area to house some chickens, especially as we already have a chicken coop in the back garden. Anyway, here is how it looked towards the end of the day:
The next thing to do was to take care of fertiliser. Luckily for us, manure is not hard to come by in the country, and the next day we received a delivery of three tonnes of muck from the local farm. It got dumped at the back of the plot, and we had to spread it over the ground we’d turned. Also lucky for us, the other folks who have allotments on the same site as us are very nice, and there were quite a few of them about that day. We managed to borrow a fork, and along with the wheelbarrow we’d borrowed earlier, we spread the manure and raked it over the open ground.
After we’d finished, we still had plenty of manure left. Here is a before-and-after view of our allotment, and you can see there is still a hefty pile of the smelly stuff towards the back. We’ll use this to spread over our smaller beds and also to top up the whole allotment later in the season. At least that’s the plan, we don’t really know yet if that’s really the best course of action.
The allotment is in a lovely location and there is a great view of the country side. On the horizon you can make out the science-fiction shapes of the new city of Milton Keynes, which is like an enormous suburb in search of an urb. The round building takes the place of a church spire as the focal point in the skyline, and fittingly as it is a cathedral to leisure: indoor ski slope, climbing wall, a 16-screen cinema, indoor sky-diving facilities(!), shopping and restaurants.
We are now figuring out what we want to plant and where to get seeds from. We are going to concentrate on simple things first: potatoes, beets, carrots, rhubarb and a few others as yet undecided. With any luck we’ll be supplying our own vegetable in just a few months. And later, plum jam!