Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A working mum's allotment

Our allotment is pretty but functional. (Although at times like bank holidays we're really glad to be there, instead of sitting in a traffic jam, for example). The bottom line is: we need to produce organic fruit and vegetables that we actually EAT.
We're into our third year now. It's taken a while to get the plot up and running. It was derelict when we took it on. The first picture in this series was taken today. The second shows the plot back in early Spring before the leaves appeared.

Time to take stock of what we've produced so far. Which techniques have saved time and money. What went well. And where we need to improve.
So let's call our reality check 'JOYS AND CONCERNS'. Starting with some JOYS:
1. I haven't bought a single lettuce so far this year, and have been eating them since early March. I've got into the habit of succession sowing and know more about the different types that will see us through the cold seasons as well as the summer. Perhaps we are never going to have to buy any ever again!
I eat quite a bit of salad, and today's supermarket visit revealed that organically grown salad leaves are at least £1.50 per bag. So that probably saves us about £6 a week on lettuce alone.

2. The Giant Winter Spinach was great, it's just finished so will sow more of that again later this year.
3. The mini pond and the tadpoles are coming along - so I'm not planning to buy organic slug pellets this year, I'm hoping they'll do the job for me.

4. The comfrey patches are thriving. I make three cuts a year, and use it to make compost and to fertilise. I'm hoping that with this and home made compost we won't need to buy anything in any more to add to the compost or enrich the soil. That saves money and effort on transport.

. 6. We've made an effort over the past year to focus on bee friendly plants. These poached egg plants are just the ticket (Limanthes Douglasii). They look really pretty and self-seed - so I won't need to sow them again next year. The Rosemary was useful for bees early in the season and even our sage is flowering (I've just heard you can eat the flowers in a salad, so I'll try that.)

. 7. The asparagus looks fine. We won't be able to start harvesting it until next year, but at that time it will fill the hungry gap in May - when there aren't many vegetables available.

.8. We aim to mulch on a regular basis and try to do so when the soil is warm and it has been raining. (Last weekend it rained a lot, so I was out mulching). There are at least two reasons why this seems to save us time, labour and effort in the long run. Firstly we don't have to water so much. And secondly mulch acts as a weed suppressant so we don't have to weed so much either.
Both of these things are important to us as we don't have much time, and our allotment is quite a journey, so we can't just pop down every evening to check on things.
In this picture you should be able to see three kinds of mulches. We use cocoa shells and/or Strulch (mineralised straw) for crops and wood chip (with cardboard underneath) for the paths. Both of these materials are fairly pricey but Strulch goes a long way. The wood chip is sometimes available free on site. This picture, along with the next one, takes us to some of our:
1. Any sort of frost protection tends to blow off. Not being able to go down to the plot as often as we'd like we sometimes get hit by frost damage. These early potatoes will recover, but they're not a pretty sight right now:
2. Still on the subject of potatoes, I'm really not sure whether main crop potatoes are worth the trouble. You need to be so careful to get all of them out of the ground properly and it is so much work to carry them home.
3. I'm still not fond of broad beans! They just don't seem to work for us. Slugs, mice...

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