It's nearly a year since I started this blog. (3rd. November, 2008 to be exact).
In gardening terms - reflecting on past successes (and failures) is an important process. So if it's alright with you readers - that's what I'm going to do for the next two weeks until this blog's first anniversary.
The picture opposite was taken on 18th. April, 2008. In the next few posts I'm going to include more recent photographs - you'll be able to track our progress that way.
We'd taken on our plot in early summer 2006 and it had been completely derelict then. I wish I'd taken a photograph at the very beginning - to prove it, but my little one had not long been born, and taking pics was the last thing on my mind...
Notable features at the start included brambles as thick as your thigh which I had to dig out, dozens of sacks full of broken glass... The lot. I mention this because I've met a few new plot holders recently who are starting in a similar place. Although at least they had their plots cleared, whereas I did mine by hand with a scythe. So don't lose heart new plotters - it is possible. Whatever you do, though don't rotovate. You'll only chop the weeds up and compact the ground - get some advice from Garden Organic about 'Starting an Organic Allotment' instead.
So, what can we see in this picture? Starting in the foreground: A weedy and still bramble stricken strip of ground covered in mulch fabric, newly planted gooseberries, newly planted rye grass and clover lawn underneath the apple trees I inherited (the one in the picture is the old variety - called Newton Wonder), inherited daffodils, newly planted asparagus bed on the left - a few raised beds and a few sack fulls of rubbish.
In 2007 when I took on the plot - most of the areas surrounding it were uncultivated. Now we have neighbours. By year four - our heavy clay soil has been much improved due to the almost constant addition of various mulches and manures. These included: rabbit manure (from a local rabbit breeder), cardboard and wood chip mulch for the paths (delivered to the site by local tree surgeons), home-made compost (since I cleared the plot from derelict there was a great deal of green waste to deal with), cocoa shells (an organic and fairly expensive product which I used sparingly on the asparagus patch and around the peach tree), 'Strulch' (also a fairly expensive product used on raspberries, it lasts a long time and is made of mineralised straw so it also feeds the soil), comfrey leaves and last but not least: kitchen waste treated with Bokashi Bran and buried in trenches.
The improvement in the soil means it is generally much easier to work - and direct seed sowing will finally become a possibility this coming Spring. The clearance of neighbouring plots has generally been a positive thing, but the clearances of vegetation mean that strong winds have been a difficulty too - and so I've planted appropriate wind breaks. Photographs to appear in the next few blog posts.
At the beginning I toyed with the idea of making a static design for the plot and then following it. I'm glad I didn't now. The lay-out of the plot evolved gradually. Some features (like the apple trees) - were fixed - but in general I observed soil, sun and shade and made decisions as I went along. The plastic raised beds worked out quite well as I moved them round quite a bit. They have a five year guarantee so whilst they're not indestructible they're fairly sturdy.
The cardboard and wood chip mulch I've used for the paths has lasted a season which means it is extra work to replace it - but because this adds organic matter to the soil, I feel this has been worth it. I'd advise new gardeners to keep an eye on the principles of permaculture whilst they are designing their layout. Think about putting your shed in the middle of your plot instead of at the end and use several compost heaps and water butts dotted around instead of just one - it really does make the work easier.
My blogging skills have improved over the past year. I'm currently without a camera as my compact and fairly simple Samsung L700 has finally packed up. Good news in some ways as this means I can finally upgrade to an entry-level digital SLR. Another fast learning curve...watch this space...