The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Starting an allotment from scratch

I was dropping Danny off at the station when we saw the sign.
“Allotments for Rent”.
On the way back home I stopped and had a potter through the allotment site. A woman and her small daughter were watering their crops. Absorbed in their tasks in the sultry afternoon sun. The air was filled with birdsong deadening the whoosh of passing traffic. Magic.

I’d assumed that there was a long waiting list for allotments in our local town. Danny has been keen to start a new outdoor veg growing project for a while now and this seemed like a good opportunity. I returned to the cottage and dialled the number.

Unfortunately the advertised allotments had already been snapped up but I was directed to another site that I didn’t even know existed. This site has 140 allotments. We visited the site and chatted to the manager. The place has a wonderful, calm feel.

I’d said that we didn’t mind starting from scratch and we were shown two plots covered in ryegrass.
“How would you clear the ryegrass? Would you use a rotavator?”
“It’s best dug by hand. Compost the turf. It’s surprising how quickly you can clear turf if you put your mind to it. Of course we’ll strim it for you.”

We returned to explore the site once more, just to make sure that we weren’t making a rash decision. We have a big kitchen garden here at the cottage which is largely my domain. This new project is a first for us – working, planning and facing the challenges together. We want to grow more food but also expand our horizons a bit too.

Within a matter of days Danny and I had signed up for the larger ten rod plot. Ten rods is equivalent of one sixteenth of an acre, 302.5 square yards or 253 square meters. Enough space for loads of brassicas and spuds. Room to experiment with new crops and methods. And best of all a retreat from The Rat Room for Danny. His job has become very pressured and demanding. He needs an outlet away from the cottage.

A few people suggested spraying the ryegrass with weed killer but we’d prefer to be organic from the start. OK removing the grass is hard work – cutting squares, slicing off and piling up the heavy clods. Progress is slow. The one tool that tackles slicing ryegrass with ease is my midi Spork. I’ve seen Danny ogling the man sized version on the Spork site. All my De Witt tools are proving to be a great investment. As we dig and slice it’s good to know that the tools are sharpening as we work.

Yesterday progress was much faster when we wore heavy work boots rather than Wellingtons as Kay Sexton tipped in Minding my Peas and Cucumbers. After three one hour sessions, we finally finished cutting the turf from our first border – 5’ x 10’ and started to dig over the compacted soil.
“Do you know I haven’t seen a single worm yet. Perhaps it’s too dry?”
Danny was being watched intently by a friendly blackbird.
“All I’ve seen are millipedes and a few beetles. The manure should bring a decent amount of worms, I reckon.”

The soil is much lighter and sandier than the heavy clay and loam at the cottage but there is well rotted manure available on the site which we’re planning to dig in along with a generous dressing of Rockdust which has worked wonders in the dry cottage borders that I extended last summer.

We are tackling the plot one border at a time. Each will be finished and seed sown or planted up before moving on to dig the next one.

Yesterday trudging back to The Duchess, with our tools slung over our shoulders, Danny turned to me and said.
“This is marvellous for me. I don’t think about work when I’m here – just focus on the task in hand. I’m taking gentle exercise and the end result will be food on the table. Can’t get much better than that!”

N.B. The wobbly video snippet shows our new allotment in all its glory. It is one allotment back from the cement raod that curls through the site – quiet and private. The ‘tennis court wire’ protects a flock of chickens and is the boundary on the west side of the allotment. The shack at the back used to be a house for ducks and geese – we are planning to turn this into a tool shed. The plot was strimmed before we started digging and D has brought the hay back for the chickens.

One border dug and just another five to go. We are leaving ryegrass paths in between the borders – bouncy and hopefully indestructible.


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  1. Patricia Dunne

    I have just been bought an allotment by my son and have just viewed it ,and to say I am scared would be an understatement. I love gardening and have just recently moved to a town house with no garden , so he thought it would be a great idea. He is right and I am quiet excited ,but not sure where to start. It has 5 apple trees so that is a start. I live in Ireland I in a little fishing village called Howth in Dublin. It has views to die for so I might build a patio and just sit and admire the view.

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