A Year With Our Allotment..

February 19, 2015


Last January, we got a call from our local allotment to say that a plot had come up for rent if we were still interested. Ben had put our names down at the end of 2013 as his Mum has an allotment there and it was just a two minute walk away from our house. I wasn't too bothered either way, sure it would be lovely to grow some fresh produce as we love eating healthy, I love to cook and we both love being outside but most allotments have a waiting list of up to five years and we had loads going on last year with a wedding to finish planning and I didn't know if we'd have enough time. So I kind of thought we would never have a chance of getting one and didn't give it much thought. But Ben was super excited when a large plot was available and he promised he'd do most of the work, so we took it for the grand total of £15 rent a year! Bargain. 23A was now ours. It was a big plot but mostly covered in grass and generally looked unloved when we took it over, the previous owner was old and had been ill for a while. It had an old shed that was falling down and had so much vine weed and cooch grass to dig up. But within a couple of months we had transformed it and had more produce than we knew what to do with by the end of the summer! Ben is well and truly hooked, it's not always my first choice on where to spend a weekend, and without gloves your manicure is ruined but I've really really loved our first year of allotmenting. 

{Before photo. From the green sign, across to the plot with the green tunnel to the path behind the shed is all ours}
It wasn't the best time of year to start digging with the wettest winter in years, it was hideously muddy and I nearly lost my wellies a few times! But we wanted to get it prepared ready for planting in March/April and we never have much going on in January compared to when the weather warms up. So dig we did, turning the soil multiple times, pulling out weeds {vine weed and cooch grass can regenerate with just the tiniest bit of root left in the soil so you really have to get it all out}, pulling up turf and started to build a compost heap. We would feel achey the next day, digging is such a good workout! 

January
Ben's an accountant and property developer so as such loves both excel spreadsheets and designing plans. Within a few days of getting our plot he had created a spreadsheet of what we needed to plant and when and then a design of our planting beds with little paths in between, deciding what to plant where with a plan for the following year's crop rotations. We borrowed some allotment and growing veg books to read up on it all. As a general rule you can't plant the same crops in the same beds each year as the soil will be stripped of nutrients and it could cause disease so you need to plan a basic rotation. It sounds more complicated than it is, if you're thinking of growing some veg then just have a little google. 




Early March
After lots of digging and marking out the shape of our beds, Ben lined the paths with bricks. We decided we didn't want grass paths as it would creep back into the soil if we weren't careful and would need cutting etc. One of the houses Ben was developing had a chimney breast full of old bricks perfect for making paths with. It took a while to lay them all but I like how it defines each of the beds. We bought seeds for all the things we wanted to plant and begun sowing in a greenhouse around March time. We already had lots of seed trays and potting compost, you can get them in all good garden centres or even good old Wilko's! We did a mixture of veg like courgettes, sqaushes, beans and flowers like sweet peas. Some things you can sow direct into the ground like beetroot and spinach when it starts to warm up whereas others need germinating inside first. We already had raspberry plants, rhubarb, fruit trees and strawberries and some were given to us by our parents and auntie and uncle's who all have veg plots. Potatoes and onions you buy ready to plant.

Early April
We planted some seeds straight into the ground in straight lines marked out with string. In the middle bed I sowed some annuals and wild flower streets straight into the soil to pretty it up a bit for our first year! We also had this old galvanised water container that a neighbour was just going to throw away! So we rescued it and planted a cherry tree in the middle and lavender around the outside. We put in some bamboo canes for make shift wigwams for the sweet peas to grow up.


Summer
From May onwards everything started to shoot up and started really growing.


Ben adapted some old pallets and lined them with plastic to make some raised beds at the side of our allotment. They're easier to maintain and good for smaller crops. We also planted fruit trees around the edge of the allotment.


We planted an old wheelbarrow up with cut and come again salad leaves which lasted for weeks. I'd walk down just before lunch for fresh cuttings.


Over the next few weeks everything went crazy, June, July and August were prime time for pickings and suddenly we had produce coming out of our ears!!



The sweet peas were prolific, I cut a huge bunch every other day for about eight weeks! You have to keep cutting them or they'll stop producing. They brightened the kitchen up and smelt amazing. 

 


Our spinach was perpetual too and it would grow back faster than the time we could use it. It lasted for months and all from just a few seeds scattered direct into the soil. 


We ended up giving a lot of produce away, dropping off veg boxes to our friends and family. There was way, way too much more than we could ever eat. We did end up preserving some beetroot in vinegar and freezing corn and raspberries. If I'd had more time I guess I could have made soups and frozen them. And frankly I'm way too young to start making chutneys and jams... 



Everything tastes so much better when it's freshly picked and everything we grew was 100% organic. We only fertilised the soil with natural comfrey and nettle feed that Ben made from the allotment. We didn't have much of a problem with pests luckily, we just used netting on the cabbages to protect them from pigeons. It's amazing how much you learn in such a short space of time.


You also get added extras when growing yourself unlike the supermarkets, like courgette flowers. Yumm.


We're still using lots of produce grown in the summer now, we're down to our last few onions, they keep for months if you store them properly. And used our last butternut squash just a couple of weeks ago.


I loved the summer months when you could leisurely wander down for picking, you didn't have to worry about weeding much or digging, all the hard work had been done earlier in the year so it was time to enjoy it all. We were amazed at just how much our plot did produce considering we'd only just started.


On the days when I went down on my own, I could barely carry it all home!



The raspberries were my ultimate favourites, most days they didn't even make it home before I'd eaten them all. We had at least two punnets worth every three days that we used in making overnight oats for breakfast or with meringues for pudding. We never gave any of my prized raspberries away ;)





I'm looking forward to the warm, long summer evenings again. We'd walk down most nights to do some watering or more produce picking. It felt like an extension of our garden. Most of the time it's quiet with not many people around but sometimes there's a real sense of community and we've met some lovely people there.

 

September onwards
We harvested our pumpkins and squashes to store for the next few months. I used the pumpkins in halloween displays and we've saved the seeds for next year. Having lots of fresh produce to use up has made me discover lots of new recipes and be inventive in what to cook. We always used to eat loads of veg anyway so I'm not sure if it's made us any healthier but it's lovely to eat it so fresh, knowing that we've grown it and saved a few trips to the supermarket! 

We had autumn cabbages, kale, leeks, potatoes, squashes and pumpkins. 




There hasn't been much life down there for the past few weeks, we've still got some kale and leeks in the ground and our purple sprouting broccoli is almost ready for harvesting but we've mainly been getting prepared ready for it to start all again in a couple of months time. We've got all of our seeds ready so roll on March for planting!

R <3 xx

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4 comments

  1. Planning to add sweet peas and raspberries to our garden this year. Yours seem to have grown REALLY well. A lot of bang for your buck, I'd say!

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  2. Your allotment haul last year was amazing! We are into growing veg ourselves, it's so rewarding isn't it. I have lovely memories of watering all our plants on hazy summer evenings. Can't wait to get stuck into it all again!

    Gemma x

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  3. Hi Rebecca, first off I discovered your blog through instagram, and I just love it! I think my husband and I are living a parallel life here in Australia! We have just built our first house so are starting to do it up too, I am just getting into doing the garden, so I have loved your before and afters. We have just started a veggie and fruit patch, I only have a small garden so I am creating a French style potager garden. I was just wondering how many raspberries you planted? We have one set of canes in at the moment, but I LOVE raspberries and quite fancy having a major glut, so was wondering what your yields were?
    Cheers Lovely!
    Bec xx

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  4. Hi Rebecca! I would love to see Ben's spreadsheet. I've jsut got my first allotment and I am lost!

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