Allotment

You’re probably wondering why on earth I have a page called “Allotment” on my predominantly teaching based website… well… in July 2020, I received an email from my local Borough Council informing me that I had reached the top of the waiting list for an allotment. At first, I thought it was a scam… “Had I even signed up for an allotment plot?” I though. Turns out I had, about 12 months back.

I was surprised because, given the circumstances created by COVID-19, I anticipated more people wanting allotment plots, not giving them up. However, some older people, or those who have been shielding, had made the decision to end their tenancy.

This was great news for me. I quickly went for a look around with my partner and we were guided around two sites. There were a variety of plots available: large ones, small ones, ones with sheds and greenhouses and ones without. They all had one thing in common though – they were all overgrown.

My partner chose one – a half plot with two sheds (well two structures that once resembled sheds) and lots of weeds. The plot next to it was also available, but was even more overgrown that our new plot. Lesley, the lovely Council Lady, joked that we should take that one too… Oh dear… never joke in front of my partner and I. Within a week, we had tenancy agreements for BOTH. The competition had started!

I feel it is pertinent to give you a bit of background into my gardening experience and temperament. For years and years, I have HATED gardening. Yes, hated. A strong, emotive word, but one that truly represented my feelings towards any form of gardening. There is a very good reason for this: my mum and dad separated when I was 7 years old and for many, many years, my brother and I would visit him on a Saturday. My dad worked for a local “pop factory” and brewery but was a keen gardener and did local people’s gardens ‘on the side’. So, every Saturday, my bother and I would spend the whole day either side of a black bin liner whilst he cut grass or on our hands and knees weeding flower beds of a complete stranger’s garden. I also suffered terribly with asthma and hay fever from a young age, so it was even more uncomfortable! I held gardening in such contempt that I even vowed to buy an apartment that doesn’t have a garden. So what has changed? Well, during a long conversation with my mum, she summed it up quite nicely (as mothers do so well). She said, “Well, this time, you’re doing it for you. Not for anyone else. It’s all for you.” Which is so true! Thanks Mother Jones!

I do quite like being outdoors. This provided the perfect opportunity to take some “downtime” from work. There is no electricity there, meaning no laptop! I can simply put my music on and crack on! I’m hoping this will help to rebalance my work/life balance and support my mental health and wellbeing.

When I saw the patch for the first time, it looked bad enough: the weeds were probably about 5ft high and stretch from the front to the back. You couldn’t see the ground. But excitement took over and I thought nothing of that! When I went back to visit once I’d received the key and after we’d had some lovely sunny weather, followed by some heavy downpours, the weeds seemed to have doubled in height and thickness! I was starting to get a bit scared now!

As any good teacher would, I spent time doing my research! I found that I had some tricky weeds: couch grass, bindweed and Mare’s Tail. Great!

I also researched how to clear a plot. There is a lot of literature out there on this subject (could write an MA dissertation on the subject!). Some of the options were:

  • Cover the ground for 12 months – stops sun and water getting to the weeds.
  • Damage the stems and use a Glysophate weedkiller on the whole patch.
  • Use a petrol strimmer and cut everything back to around 12″ then use weedkiller.

During the first few days of being at the plot, I met several of the other Allotmenteers. Most of them are retired and have tended their plot for decades. You can tell this just from looking at them: one had 4 greenhouses and an orchard, the other, a chicken run and 2 large shed. They definitely gave me something to aim for. The plot behind my partner’s belong to a couple around the same age as other. Turns out the lady is a teacher (small world, eh?). We had a great discussion about teaching and learning, the various Education Secretaries and what they have done for (or to!) education and how our schools have coped during the ongoing pandemic. It was refreshing.

One thing, however, that all Allotmenteers have in common is that advice is available in abundance and everyone thinks their way of doing things is right. Rotavate it, don’t rotavate it; use weedkiller, don’t use weed killer; double did, triple dig, don’t dig! I obviously didn’t want to offend anyone, but I had to remember what my mum had said: “You’re doing this for you!”

I decided on the last option. The patch was so thick, a strimmer was the only thing that would get it under control.

It took a good 2-days to get it strimmed and raked. It was thick with tall weeds, grasses, thistles, nettles and good-knows-what-else! But it was down. I could see the ground! I found some paving slabs and even a raised bed made of salvaged railway sleepers. Bonus!

I decided to try two forms of weed control:

  1. Spray the raised bed and cover it with a thick, light-blocking tarpaulin.
  2. Spray the rest of the patch and leave it for a week.

The latter did wonders, although I paid a bit more for a concentrated Glysophate based weedkiller. Within a week, it was clear that it had started to work: yellow and brown leaves and foliage, brittle stems and no new shoots. Great stuff.

I’ve yet to uncover the raised bed. Fingers crossed it’s been as successful as the rest of the plot.

From here, the hard work began: getting the infrastructure in place, which involved getting a shed base laid and a shed put up, putting in patch on each side and weeding!

The latter of that list will keep me going for several months! Good job I’m in no rush to get things in the ground.

Follow my progress on my Instagram: