It’s taken a while, but finally – finally – there are signs of things growing on the plot which aren’t thistles or comfrey. Last night, I finally managed to plant (just as the sun set) my remaining golden courgettes and a few sunflowers which should shoot up above their leaves, if all goes well. If not, I do have plenty more sunflower seeds.
The process of clearing ground has been ongoing, and the plot is now looking much clearer. Lots of dry weather has left the heavy clay soil as hard as concrete, and cracked in places. Loads of people use raised beds on the allotment and now I know why: the soil’s full of large pieces of flint and is very hard work to dig.
Having discovered that the allotment is a haven for slow worms, I’m being even more careful than I was about what I do to take the plot from overgrown mess to productive veg garden/wildlife sanctuary. A brush cutter would have made short work of the tall thistles and the overgrown edges, but having found one dead slow worm which appeared to have been killed by a neighbour’s strimming, I’ve banned any power tools at worm level and have chosen to pull rather than cut as much as possible, to minimise the risk of accidentally hurting one of those beautiful creatures. Such actions largely bemuse my (mostly male, and/or older) neighbours.
It was suggested to me that spraying everything with a systemic weed killer would be another option but wildlife in general and bees in particular mean that it’s not an option I’d consider. I do like bees. I intend to encourage as many of them as possible to visit my plot by planting flowers among the veg, and choosing plants they’ll like. I have a load of black polythene and once I’ve decided on areas to be rested or not used for a bit I’ll be laying that down on the soil to kill off weeds and provide somewhere the slow worms will burrow under. I’ll ensure there’s space set aside over winter for that as well. I’m hoping the numerous slugs will take a while to migrate to the beds but I’m trying to plant out stuff which is big enough to be less appealing. I won’t use slug pellets because of the slow worms, and I’m hoping they’ll repay me by eating the slimy bastards.
Something else I intend to do is set aside a bit and to sow meadow flowers for insect overwintering, as well as because I like them. More on that later, though, since before I can focus on the pretty I must sort out the practical. Herewith, two raised beds, built for me by my sister and her fiancé from nothing more than some scaffolding plants and bits of pallet I’d acquired. There are probably some nails holding it all together but they’re so neat I can’t tell. Anything I build will look rubbish in comparison!
I’ve been getting better acquainted with the soil. Formerly the site of the chicken pen, the ground’s been compacted over a few years and needed properly digging over, which we’ve done. Doing this revealed enough flint to keep my bushcrafting tendencies happy for ever, a load of glass, nails and other assorted detritus. Whole glass jars seem to be fairly plentiful, and we’ve dug up several of those. In any case, I’ve been picking stuff out by hand, sieving and, finally, chucking in bought compost. When I get my much-coveted rotary sieve, things might go a bit faster, but I quickly got bored with how long it took without one.
The compost (peat-free) was earmarked for improving the soil in the polytunnel, which is fine and granular and needs the addition of organic matter. I’d picked up some torn bags at a huge discount but hadn’t actually had a chance to incorporate them. That was just as well, really, since they were all needed, and then some. The calculation to work out the amount of soil needed to fill a raised bed reckons I’ll need almost a metric tonne of the stuff between the two. Bought compost isn’t sustainable, but I’ve finally planted some veg and it feels more like a worked plot and less of a fallow one.
The bed may look rather pathetic with a far greater space:plant ratio than you’d like, but very soon those golden courgettes will be sending out massive, Jurassic-style leaves on long stems. If you plant them too close together they crowd everything else out, get tangled up and take over. My plan is to try and get mini sweetcorn sown among them as they should grow up above the courgette leaves before they spread too much. More on that when I get to it.
The next step is to buy/transport the compost to fill the second bed, into which I’ll be putting my broccoli and cauliflower seedlings, under netting, to try and keep pigeons off them and give them a chance. I’m going to let the pumpkins take their chances with the stony soil, since they’ll provide a load of ground cover and help keep weeds out. I’ve got 7 seedlings, so hopefully come October my sister can do some pumpkin carving for the kids. I may also try onions, if it’s not too late, in a patch that we’ve dug over at the other end of the plot. My neighbour has the same soil (minus all the glass and nails) and has grown quite spectacular onions, using my favourite gardening technique of ‘plant and abandon’, so I might have a shot too.