We moved to East Yorkshire in late 2019, and before we had even exchanged contracts on our new house, I had added my name on the list for an allotment. I was thrilled to discover an allotment site less than 5 minutes away and presently surprised when in early January 2020, just over a month after we moved house, I received a letter offering me an allotment plot.
This is what plot 25 looked like back in January 2020. It measures approx 270 meters square, at around 34 meters long, and 8.5 meters wide, though its narrows to 8 meters towards the back. At the back is an amazing, gigantic shed, measuring over 3m in length. At the front of the plot was a huge compost area, measuring over 6 meters square. The plot hasn’t been worked in years, the last occupiers were a housing association on behalf of their tenants, but it seems their tenants weren’t interested in gardening. It turned into a place for their gardener to leave grass cuttings, which I think may explain the size of the compost area.
I’m told the tenants before that used it as a place to socialise and smoke fish which I think is mostly due to the local area. We live in a town that was built in the mist of the industrial revolution when there was a rapid demand for housing. The response in the town centre was small terraced houses, on narrow roads with teeny tiny gardens.
So that means the last serious plot owner worked the plot over 8 years ago. I hear he wasn’t a fan of spending money or adding any fertiliser to the ground, the older plot holders joke he had a small jam jar of fertiliser that he would make last the full plot an entire year. His legacy may continue, as I also intend to recycle as much as possible, rather than spending money – but more for eco-conscious reasons. I am however fascinated with organic soil health, so whilst I might not be buying much fertiliser, I do have big plans to for healthy soil.
Much to the amusement of my fellow plot holders I started digging by hand, removing handful after handful of perennial weed roots as I dug. This was painstakingly slow and cold, but really rewarding. That was until the rain started and soon the plot was underwater, so all plans of digging ground to a sudden halt. This called for plan B, and a decision to cover as much of the plot as possible, the weeds were slowly coming back to life and I wanted to stop them taking over and give me more time for the ground to dry up so I could continue digging!
In March we decided on plan C, to rotavate. This went against every rule book out there, especially as we have a lot of perennial roots, but 9 months on I am still pleased we did. It allowed us to make use of the entire allotment space last season, and whilst I am not going to lie, the weeds were awful. They were also manageable with frequent hoeing, and the we still had harvests from everything we planted.
March was a busy month. We rotavated the entire plot, took down the old pallets, destroyed the ones that were rotten and gave away the ones that were usable. We built our new pallet compost bins from pallets we were given (In hindsight these are too small, but will be absolutely fine for the next few years!). We also planted a gooseberry bush and two currant bushes. The plot was finally beginning to take shape, and I marked out the new central path, and some of the beds with twine.
I started digging the pond in April, when I found some pond liner I had purchased back in 2016, and somehow had survived our house move. We built our first sweet pea structures, planted the potatoes and marked out more of the beds with string. I decided the very top bed at the plot, near the compost bins was the herb bed, and planted chives, rhubarb and herbs I had been given by family and friends.
In May I spent a bit more time in the wildlife area. I took wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load of rockery stones I uncovered in our back garden to the allotment to form the edge of the pond, and a few weeks later added some plants and decided to change the shape of the pond slightly, to build a shallow bank that would allow insects to climb out of the pond more easily. The second week of May was our last frost date here in Yorkshire and lots of the plants I had been raising at home from seed were ready to be taken down to the allotment and planted out. The potatoes had started to grow, and the allotment was starting to look much greener!
In June the allotment really started coming to life. The risk of frost had passed and carefully transported the rest of the seedlings we started at home to the allotment and transplanted them. I built some protection to protect the tender brassicas from the birds, using wood, canes and scaffold netting. The wildlife area started to take shape. The cornflowers, borage and calendula were magnets for the wildlife and flourished. The weeds were growing just as fast as the crops, but that was par for the coarse given we rotavated perennial weeds back in March, and I spent a lot of time hoeing. The Horsetail/Marestail was the worst, and I had been following the ‘don’t let them see a Sunday’ approach and hoeing them down frequently. By the end of the year, I could see this approach was working well, with the areas most worked were mostly weed-free, and the harder to weed areas, such as around the potatoes, the marestail was still running rampant, it will be interesting to see what happens this season.
July was a weeding frenzy! The brassica nets did a brilliant job of keeping the brassicas safe from birds and butterflies. They also give a little wind protection, and add warm, and help to retain moisture. In this environment, the brassicas thrive, but so do the weeds. The first few photos below show how crazy the marestail was inside the cages! It was an amazing feeling walking to the allotment to harvest potatoes, green beans & cabbage for our Sunday roast dinner!
The allotment looked just beautiful in August. I couldn’t believe how amazing our little space looked, the flowers had really taken hold! I planted two flower beds at the top of the allotment, and flowers at the edge of the path. The raspberries had nasturtiums interplanted, as well as looking beautiful they also established quickly and deprived the weeds of light. I planted calendula ‘Orange king’ at the side of the potato beds, and dwarf asters beside the squash and pumpkins I had two wigwams of sweet peas at the edge of the path further down in another flower bed. The contrast between the heights and colours of the flowers and vegetables was absolutely beautiful – I will definitely try to recreate this in my planning for the 2021 season.
By the end of September, I removed the rest of the brassica cages. In hindsight, I wish I had done this sooner, and I should have spent more time weeding inside the nets and less time weeding the path! Most of the other allotment holders had already removed their nets, and as you can see the weeds inside some of my nets were going absolutely crazy, and starting to drown my crops. I spent September weeding and turned my attention to the path problem. I decided to sow grass paths, so I spent a good few hours levelling the ground and sowing grass seed.
To my absolute delight, the grass began to grow in early October! I turned my attention to restructuring the rest of the allotment into the smaller 120cm beds, marking them out with twine. I decided to plant my garlic in my new ‘fruit’ section this season as it was the driest part of my plot when the plot flooded in February. Garlic like free-draining soil and I wanted to give them the best chance of survival!
When I started the plot I was kindly given a few around 20 spare strawberry runners from 2 different plot holders. I didn’t manage a big strawberry harvest, I didn’t net them and therefore shared with the birds, but runners went crazy! The first part of the restructure was to replant the runners and to extend the strawberry section from 20 plants to 4 full beds of over 200 plants!
The second part of the plot restructure was to move the raspberries to their new permanent positions, this meant harvesting some leeks a little early. I also had to move the gooseberry, redcurrant and white currant bushes into their new positions. Harvesting the leeks turned out to be a good decision as we had some allium leaf miner damage. By November the newly sown grass was looking really lush and green, and two of the 7 garlic varieties I planted had lush green foliage pushing up through the soil!
I didn’t spend too much time at the plot in December. I turned the compost, pottered and tidied. It was an absolute pleasure to harvest sprouts and cabbage for Christmas dinner, they were absolutely delicious!
A beautiful year
2020 was a crazy year for everyone, and I am so pleased and grateful that we had this space to transform. Looking back on these photos and memories has really helped me to appreciate how much has changed. We had a lot of failures (garlic, I’m looking at you!) and lots of successes along the way. I remember the courgette glut that saw the children tentatively poke almost every meal with their fork and ask ‘has that got courgette in it?’ (The answer was mostly yes, even the cake!) I also remember the moments. The children picking flowers and vegetables and eating fresh raspberries with pink stained fingers. I remember the children excitedly checking for blackberries and strawberries each visit and carefully searching through the pumpkin leaves for pumpkins.
The next thing to do is to look ahead to the new growing season and spend an evening drawing out an allotment plan for 2021. I am so excited to get started!