My allotment plot is actually about half a plot, given that an allotment plot in the UK is traditionally 10 square rods, which is 250 metres squared, or 0.6 acres if you can visualise that. It’s got loads of space for what I need but isn’t so big that I’d be unable to cope.
The plot came with a shed and a polytunnel. Prior to coming to me, it had done nothing but house chickens for 15 years so the shed was the former chicken coop. The Town Council, who administer the running of the allotments, wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a risk to health in changing the plot’s use so they thoroughly investigated before they’d let me have it.
I’d already researched this before deciding that was the plot I wanted, and I hadn’t found anything about cleaning a chicken coop and then turning it into a building that someone would spend time in. I have hopes of sitting in there, having just made some tea, as I enjoy the peace and quiet of it all. It’s not just a shed that I’ll store stuff in and pop in and out of: it’s got to be safe to sit in there and breathe the air and touch stuff and not be grim inside.
I checked with Defra, people who’d kept poultry, gardeners, Google at large and frequented both allotment and poultry forums in an attempt to get answers. The mere fact that I couldn’t find any horror stories about a woman who got a deadly lung disease from chicken poo dust in her shed made me think it wasn’t a thing. Anything medically unusual usually gets written up and I couldn’t find anything relevant there either, so I suspected I was safe.
The Town Council couldn’t get anyone to say it was safe but everyone they spoke to thought the soil should be great from the chicken poo and that they couldn’t think that it would be a problem. After weeks of getting the same sort of answers, we agreed that there might be a small risk but it was likely to be negligible given the lack of data or government advice. This all hinged, of course, on properly cleaning the coop. I’ll write a post about doing that and link to it from here when it’s done.
Long story short: you can sterilise a chicken coop with Jeyes Fluid. In the correct concentration it kills all known variants of the H5N1 (bird flu) strain of influenza and everything else. I’ll assess the environmental risks before I do it, but on this one health will take priority over the bugs in the soil that might be killed with Jeyes solution. They’ll get over it: I’ve got asthma and am in a high-risk group for flu. I also want my young niece and nephew to spend time there and I’m not prepared to take risks with their health, given their ages, which places them in a vulnerable group as well. There’s loads of really detailed advice on exactly what to do, though, so I had a very clear idea of what would be entailed in actually doing it and was confident that I could.
The soil in the polytunnel is good and it needs only the smallest amount of weeding. The path through the middle is full of rubbish trodden into the surface so am sorting that by hand.
I want to grow (in no particular order) courgettes, sweetcorn, soft fruit, flowers, carrots, peas, beans of all varieties, garlic, herbs, peppers, aubergines, cauliflowers, cabbage, salad veg and loads of stuff I probably haven’t even thought of yet. The soil up by the shed is full of massive worms. I’d been told there probably wouldn’t be any because the chickens would have eaten them all. Either they’ve all appeared quickly or, more likely, they just stayed underground away from the birds. Whatever the reason, I’m really pleased as that means the soil isn’t so super-fertilised that it’s liable to burn plants etc.