Last spring we took on an allotment on a newly opened site. The field was largely grass and weeds apart from some apple trees. There was no source of water (apart from the rain) and no huts provided. As you can see it looked quite bare last March.
Preparing the plot took a lot of hard work that seemed pointless and unfruitful at first. The whole plot was semi-flooded and we even found frogs on the plot. The apple tree was in about a foot of water and the ground stunk of rotting vegetation – a sign of very poor water run-off. The soil is heavy clay with poor drainage. Later in the year we discovered that there was a drainage pipe from the top of the field onto the plot above ours. After much reading and internet searching we made a start on sorting out the drainage by digging a trench around the plot. We had some help from family – especially the kids who loved digging in mud.
By May we had been able to get a few beds dug and the rudimentary plan of the plot set out. I have to admit that i had been vastly over-optimistic about how quickly we would be able to dig the beds. The weather was particularly wet and cold that spring, despite a record breaking warm January. The soggy ground was very difficult to dig and becmae much more heavy. On a couple of beds it felt like we were just moving mud about and not actually doing any good to the soil structure.
We added a bag of sharp sand and a bag of (hand collected) horse manure to each 1m by 2.5m raised bed. The reading I had done indicated that double digging would be the best method for improving the soil. It’s damn hard work as it involves digging two spade’s depth down. It improves the drainage and lifts the soil up, creating raised beds. We used cheap wooden planks to hold the soil in and to create a neat appearance.
What I hadn’t accounted for was the appearance of horsetail. Horsetail is just about the worst weed a gardener can encounter in the UK. It’s roots can go for meter’s under the soil and each small piece of the root is capable of producing a new plant. It’s very difficult to eradicate but we aimed to weaken it by removing as much of the roots as possible when digging a bed. Each bed was capable of producing enough roots (of horsetail and couch grass) to half-fill a large green waste wheelie bin. Each clump of soil needed to be broken down by hand and the roots removed.
The middle picture shows the herb bed we planted with plants from The National Herb Centre, including chocolate peppermint, thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, lovage and bronze fennel. I started to put rocks around it to create a nice boundary, but later changed to wood. Just behind this is a Rhubarb plant that i surrounded by bricks. I found Freecycle an excellent way of getting used items for the allotment including paving stones, rocks and bricks. The picture on the left shows the first bed we dug – for flowers. There is a frame made out of bamboo for the sweet peas to climb up and a few other plants that pollinators like – including marigold. The final picture just shows the path we created, if only to get some balance on the plot.