The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Allotment update: six weeks on

“You look so happy.” Danny said.
We were resting from digging on plot 90B. The wind was warm. And yes I was happy. We were out and working together on our new project. An allotment, five miles from home, that feels like paradise.

I’m finding it very hard to tear myself away from our allotment. There’s a lot of work to be done – preparing the ground and working out a rough layout. For the time being we’re going for long borders that are roughly 6’ wide, separated by grass paths. But it’s not the work that makes me happy – it’s the promise of new land and friends away from home. An escape.

We live in a beautiful cottage with a third of an acre of land but as we now both work from home and go out rarely, sometimes our home can seem like a gilded cage. We also lead fairly independent lives. On the plot we are working together.

We spend hours sitting on the two plastic garden chairs that were left on the plot dreaming about sheds, arbours and the obligatory pond. A plot wouldn’t feel right without a small army of frogs to deal with the pesky slugs. Here we have the space to experiment with new (to us) vegetables and fruit.

The allotment is in our nearest town, Newmarket. It’s a big site – over 140 plots – with a good relaxed and friendly feel. The committee is very keen on community. The fruit from the numerous fruit trees is generally shared. Here you can fine Williams pears and old tasty apple varieties – their names long forgotten.

Our village is on much higher ground than the town. The temperature down there is several degrees higher – that combined with the slight wind and ryegrass gives our plot a beachy feel. Our kitchen garden is fairly shady – getting sun in the afternoon. On plot 90B there is sun all day – when it’s shinning.

Germination is swift too. 3 days for Kohl Rabi and just a week for carrots. It’s a very special place and when we return home we feel relaxed and refreshed however tired that we feel when we arrive.

As you know The Chicken Lady and S have got an allotment near by and we are beginning to make new friends too. It’s so good to see other people even if we don’t have time to chat for long.

I have planted some perennial vegetables. More details on these in a few days time. A few celery plants, squash plants from Magic Cochin and a long row of leeks. I’ve also sewn quite a bit of seed – autumn carrots, pak choi, winter lettuces, chicory, raddichio, chervil, speedy cut and come again salad leaves and spinach for baby leaves. Radishes, turnip oasis, beetroot and collard greens. These last seeds were a present from Terry Golson who writes the excellent site in America – they take 70 days till harvest and are a biannual. I reckon that these will be similar to the cabbage trees that we have in our kitchen garden. In the next few days I’ll sow coriander and parsley between the perennial vegetables.

The soil is very fine and dries out very quickly. We’ve bulked each border up with loads of the free compost available on site.

I met our neighbour Mark who tactfully looked at our mountain of ryegrass and told me that a neighbour of his had suggested that he to dig it into the ground. Over the winter the turf had broken down releasing nutrients into the soil. We decided to go with this idea. To make this a bit easier we’ve dug pits 1.5 spits deep and laid the turf grass side down. This is covered in a layer of compost and then the topsoil is raked over the top.

So far this has produced gorgeous plumped up beds.

When sowing seed I fill the drills with much more water than I would usually do – here I use the water from a 6.5 litre watering can for a drill of about 10’. This provides an underground oasis for the seeds and seems to be having the desired effect. When I come to water at the end of a long sunny day I can still see the moisture beneath the rows of seedlings.

Last week the UK was celebrating National Allotment Week. Hopefully we will be celebrating our allotment for years to come.


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  1. We met Terry a few years ago at Coastal Growers Farmer’s Market, held at Casey Farm in Rhode Island. My daughter bought one of her cookbooks and we enjoyed learning about chickens. Collards are my favorite green, sweeter than kale but they cook similarly. You can slice, blanch and freeze them for winter soups.

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