This summer was different from previous years. We were away such a lot, and despite no longer working, somehow I seemed to have far less time than usual to spend on the allotment.
But it was a good way to learn about what works and what doesn’t in a life with just the two of us to feed (plus regular gifts to close family), and the two of us having the unaccustomed freedom to be away from time to time.
What I learnt was: less is more. One (half) allotment plus a quarter plot is too much for me. My plan to use the smaller plot (where the hens used to be) as a fruit garden was over-ambitious. Especially as I haven’t used the main plot to the full this year.
So. The new plan is to move all the fruit bushes back onto the main plot. I have now given up the smaller one. I will use the remaining plot much more intensively and efficiently than before. I hope that eventually the council will let the smaller one to someone else. Oddly, around here there doesn’t seem to be a waiting list for allotments, and it isn’t easy to find new takers.
I will miss my apple trees, but perhaps I will find a way to incorporate some into the main plot.
What I learnt was: good planning is key. Including within it the knowledge that I will be away from time to time. I will grow only those crops which I can be around to plant, nurture and harvest. There are key times when I need to be around to do stuff, but apart from that, the plot is pretty forgiving of me not being there. But there is no point in growing things that will not be harvested and enjoyed, whether by us or by others. So – this year (and we are now into the new growing year) my planning and doing will take all of that into consideration.
This has certainly been true of the hens. Moving them and having the wonderful new enclosure, and buying a feed hopper have all reduced the work involved in keeping them, and made it easier for others to take over when I’m away.
What I learnt was: sometimes a bit late is early enough. This was true with the broad beans, which I sowed and planted out far later than planned, yet I had a wonderful crop and they were delicious. Likewise, I was very late sowing and planting my french beans, but the crop has been magnificent (and delicious).
What I learnt was: look after the soil, and plant strong healthy plants. So long as I do that, on the whole the crops will be good. This year that was true of onions, garlic, new potatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, marrows (OK, they’re the courgettes I failed to pick small…), broad beans, french beans, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb. This year it was not true of main crop potatoes (blight), later tomatoes (blight), carrots (badgers), radishes (badgers?), all salads (slugs), coriander (slugs), parsley (slugs).
What I learnt was: keep the bloody badgers out!. Otherwise I may as well give up all hope of growing anything with any sweetness in it. This year they trashed my (newly planted) asparagus bed, and all the carrots and salads. I’ve all but given up trying with sweetcorn. A neighbour has fully fenced her plot and successfully grows all these things. I’m hoping that my birthday presents will include the fencing of my dreams, and the labour to put it up. Then I will beautify it with plants growing up and on it, and perhaps some new bunting and other decorations. (Yes, this is a very unsubtle
What I learnt was: I so love working on the allotment. The physical aspect of it certainly, but also the mental and emotional ‘work’. The time to mull things over; the joy of plans coming (literally) to fruition; the joy of the sudden revelation of a solution to a problem or puzzle; the solitude. Of course the crops nourish the body, certainly, but for me the act of nurturing the land also nourishes other aspects of myself, and this is at least as important to me.
What I learnt was: I can never grow too many cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, courgettes, marrows or french beans for my own enjoyment. When you buy cucumbers at the shop I doubt you would regularly eat a whole one in a single sitting. When I grow them on the allotment, I can happily enjoy a whole one for lunch every single day. Day after day. And then I’ll have no more cucumber until the next year’s crop (apart from those I’ve pickled).
To sum up, this summer on the allotment has been as much about learning for the future as it has been about growing eating and enjoying the crops. And the failures? well, of course I’ve learnt as much from them as I have from the successes. As is true of everything in life.
And here’s to the next growing year.