After waiting only four months, we got the news that we had reached the top of the allotment waiting list: if we were still interested, would we like to come and choose the one we wanted? Yes, we were still very much interested, although, I have to admit, I was a little hesitant at first. Prior to Covid, TFG’s work took up much of his time and I couldn’t really see how we were going to fit in an allotment on top of the gardens at home, our jobs, the dogs and life in general. But, as you will have already read and seen, we managed it. On the 4th January 2020 we chose our plot, took ownership of the keys and started planning with much gusto….and I am so glad we did.
After general weeding and a tidy up, one of the first things we did was to contact my best friend who just happens to keep horses and has access to a plentiful supply of well-rotted horse manure. In total I think we took delivery of a couple of tons or so. It was back-breaking work but we managed to fill each and every raised bed with high quality ‘black gold’, thus giving our crops a nutrient-rich start and healthy growing season. We planted red and white onions in starter trays and placed them in the shed, having missed the traditional autumn sowing season.
With better weather came more chances for us to plant, sow and plan. We planted out the onions that had been started in the shed. Although we had a good crop, we have already sown the crop for 2021 and increased it by approximately 50% (we use a lot of onions in our kitchen!). Remember my lovely Crimson-flowered broad beans? Well, they were growing on a treat last March and almost ready for planting out. I do love their colour and that’s pretty much the only reason I grow them. Considering how much we were plagued by black fly later in the year, I’m happy to never grow them again. Who eats broad beans anyway?
Following TFG’s harvesting of cast seaweed from the beach we set about planting our potato crop and what a crop it was! Did the seaweed assist with our bounty? I would like to think so. We had good crops of all our varieties, in particular ‘Pink Fir Apple’, which did really well. We still have brown paper bags full of potatoes in the garage waiting to be eaten. Also to go in were the Jerusalem artichokes which went in to their own little bed. We planted 20 and I think 10 came up. However, I had not really thought that through properly and even the 10 that came up filled the bed – we have eaten some of them and I can confirm that they are delicious. In March we also built our compost bins which I am happy to report are doing a wonderful job. We should be able to dig out our own ‘black gold’ in the very near future.
We sowed a variety of peas in trays which grew (not very satisfactorily) along the front of the shed – another veg I am happy not to grow again. March also saw our first ‘up-cycle’ project with the boxes for the climbing french beans and nasturtiums. The runner bean supports were erected and we sowed some summer flower seeds and planted gladioli corms.
A busy month, not just for us, but for everything that we had sown and planted. The greenhouse at home was choc-full of sweetcorn, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and summer flowers. We felt confident that we were ahead of ourselves and everything was doing as it should, if a little early. However, that wasn’t to be the case and we ended up re-sowing a number of seeds in May. As TFG said in a previous blog post, we found that those seeds we planted straight in the ground or under cold glass a few weeks later overtook those we’d coaxed along indoors. Definitely a case of more haste, less speed. We thinned out and straightened the rows of raspberries and earthed-up potatoes.
April was also the month we chose to deal with the shed and, most urgently, its leaking roof. Neither of us had re-roofed a shed before, however, having sourced the felt we set about getting it done. I had visions of a Derek Jarman inspired black and yellow shed but as the roof felt was green and we had some sage green wood paint at home we decided to stick with that colour palette. The result was rather marvellous even if I do say so myself. Although, having taken a look at the shed a few days ago, it now needs a further coat of paint. Oh joy!
Everything that we had sown directly into the soil started appearing and growing at breakneck speed, particularly salad crops such as beetroot, radish and our first lettuce. The Swiss chard needed thinning out. The emerald green spears of new gladioli leaves were everywhere and the calendula marigolds were starting to flower. Our sweetcorn and pumpkin/squash seedlings were planted out together in one bed – I was inspired by the native American ‘Three Sisters’ planting plan but didn’t want to grow beans up the sweetcorn. At the end of the month we planted out tomatoes, cucumbers and, most exciting of all, erected posts for the dahlia beds. We planted out the first dahlias that we had started from tubers at home.
A month of firsts – our first strawberries on 1st June, our first dahlia flowers and we cropped our first courgettes. We did a lot of tending, planting and thinning out, but to adequately convey how much the plot changed in June you just need to watch this video…the plot went ‘BOOM’!
Flower power arrived in all it’s dahlia glory. This month is when my favourite flower really started to come into it’s own with the vast majority of varieties now flowering their little socks off. To walk to the allotment and see who had bloomed next became something of a daily routine for us both in July. There wasn’t a day in the month when I went to the plot and wasn’t filled with joy at the sight of so many blooms: not just dahlias, we also enjoyed gladioli, daturas, cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers, chrysanthemums and Californian poppies, to name a few. The tomatoes were starting to produce fruit, as were the squash and pumpkins. We cropped our first tromboncino too – and I will grow these humorous squash for always and forever. They are fast-growing, heavy-yielding, tasty and very easy to grow. It was around now that we started cropping our runner beans. They were a little feeble to begin with but some picked up and we were able to pack a few bags into the freezer for winter.
August carried on in pretty much the same vein as July, with marvellous weather. There was much cropping of produce, flowers in abundance and with the dead-heading that was taking place on a daily basis, the compost bins really came into their own. We had our first proper crop of tomatoes and I pickled cucumbers and beetroot, which we still haven’t tried. We were taking home punnets of raspberries on a daily basis, all now in the freezer awaiting consumption, and I did my first dahlia Instagram live. I’m not the most confident public speaker, whether that’s in person or via video, but it was something of a thrill to be able to share our dahlias with the world. If only I could do it as a job. What a magical, marvellous thing that would be!
For me, this is the most exciting month of the year. Dahlia production went into fifth gear and we were enjoying new blooms and dead-heading at every opportunity. The tomatoes also decided that they would increase their output. On a daily basis we were cropping somewhere around 2kgs of fresh, ripe, delicious, small, regular and plum-shaped fruits. The majority were turned into pasta sauce. You would not believe how many tubs of sauce are still in the freezer waiting to be consumed, even though we are using at least one a week. As well as my sauce, TFG made yummy ratatouille. Yes, it has aubergines in it and, no, we didn’t grow any, however, I am rather tempted to give them a whirl this year, particularly as there are quite a few exotic varieties that we could try. I’m not a huge lover of eating them (they are the vegetable equivalent of a slug!) but maybe I will be converted. This is the month that TFG gifted me the most fantastic book – ‘Dahlia Breeding for the Farmer-Florist and the Home Gardener’ by Kristine Albrecht of Santa Cruz Dahlias. I am hoping that 2021 is the start of a new and exciting chapter for me and Dahlias…..watch this space.
September was the month we decided that the strawberry bed had to go. Being completely full of strawberries meant that the bed was only productive for a few weeks in an entire year. So, knowing that he was going to be faced with much couch grass and bindweed roots, TFG set to work on clearing the bed and improving the soil, to make way for…….MORE DAHLIAS! I know that we do seem to be a little obsessed with them, but how can you not be when there are so many cultivars, flower shapes, sizes, colours, etc? They bring much joy and, if I am anything like the man I considered to be my grandfather, I will grow them until my last breath. First, before the dahlias take their place, we have filled the bed with tulip bulbs for a zingy, hotbed of rich reds, oranges and yellows. Spring-time at the allotment is going to be as colourful as the summer if we have anything to do with it. In case you are wondering, we have kept the best plants from the strawberry bed and will grow these on for our annual summer crop of sweet, tasty fruit, much to Mildred’s delight.
While still enjoying a copious amount of dahlia blooms and tomato fruit (remind me why I planted over 40 plants?!), we cropped the last of the tromboncino, squash and pumpkins and placed them in the shed to dry off ready for storage. As the summer flowers started to fade, the chrysanthemums came into their own and were an absolute delight. We planted two varieties of garlic in order to get them going before the first frosts as they benefit from a cold blast. I think this month was also when we really started to think about 2021 and what we would or wouldn’t grow and sow.
It didn’t take the garlic bulbs long to show their fresh green tips. They are now several inches high. I am looking forward to cooking with the pungent scent of our homegrown cloves. Now that the strawberry bed is empty, the tulip bulbs can go in. I cannot wait to enjoy their bright, colourful blooms in late spring. Does anyone else find an allotment a constant source of ‘looking forward’? In a world currently full of negativity there is something positively reassuring knowing that you can and will grow something tasty, something beautiful and something awe inspiring. After having dug them up on a ‘need to eat’ basis, we exhumed the last of the potatoes, placed them in brown paper bags and stored them at home in the garage. We are still enjoying the crop and will be doing so for some time.
The final month of the year. Due to lack of light, the weather and not being able to visit until weekends, the plot has taken something of a back seat. However, plans continue at full throttle and we have already purchased the seeds for next year’s tomato crop. I will try not to sow quite so many (who am I kidding?!). We saved the most back-breaking job until the very end of the year and have now dug up and stored all our current dahlias tubers. After being carefully lifted by TFG I cleaned them off and we have stored them in the garage in cardboard boxes on a bed of straw with some old potting soil on top to protect them while dormant. We have prepared our 2021 allotment plan, deciding where to grow what. Yes, you guessed it, we have found more room for more dahlias. The long bed that had over 40 tomato plants in it last year is going to be a sea of dahlia flowers. Because of this decision, we have purchased another 40 dahlias to come and grow on the plot. I have absolutely no idea where we are going to store them all next winter – we might have to build an extension for them. We have also started a page dedicated to the dahlias that we grow and you can see it by clicking here. More cultivars and information will be added over the coming weeks.
There is so much I have probably missed or forgotten about. As much as I wasn’t sure I wanted an allotment, I am absolutely sure that now I couldn’t and won’t be without it. It gives a purpose in its need to be cared for, to be nurtured and to be looked after. Do these things and it will reward you ten-fold. Isn’t that what life is about? In these times of flux and worry, I find the allotment a place of contentment, somewhere to forget everything that’s going on beyond the prison-like barrier fence. It is a prison I am happy to be locked in. May my incarceration be long and fruitful!
Happy New Year One and All!
P.S. If anyone knows where I can get hold of Dahlia ‘Hapet Austria Lace’, please do contact me. It’s at the top of my ‘Want List’ and I wants it!