Wednesday, 9 August 2017


One raised bed cleared of 'weeds' with paths either side.
The adventure begins. The first cleared bed.
One of the adjustments I've had to make in my move to Halifax is to try to consider some wild plants foes instead of friends.

We could have chosen a part-allotment with the soil already tilled, useful plants already growing on it, a green-house and a shed. Or we could have chosen a wacking-great almost-field, full of grasses and willowherb, sorrel, ragwort - and a whole (erstwhile) raised bed solely packed with rib-wort (narrow-leaved plantain).

Willow Herb, wheelbarrow, blue water-butt and bramble.
I've clipped back the bramble
but haven't yet had the heart to destroy this willow herb.
Traditional, gardening-book wisdom says go for the green-house and weed-free soil. Our hearts said to go for the field. And being a true believer in hearts - it's the wild field we have.

What I'd have liked best would have been to leave it as we found it. It was beautiful. So for several days I went and stood there half an hour at a time and did nothing but look at it. Drinking it in. Saying 'good-bye' - in the sense that allotments are for carrots, not wild grasses.

Eventually, my friend Esther insisted that one of the important things about allotments is not to annoy our neighbours so the flowering grasses really had to stop being admired and be chopped down instead.

At that point, I was still feeling disoriented. And just as one may be unable to eat when anxious or displaced, I couldn't take photos. So there are no 'befores' and 'afters'.

I would have liked to have photographed the grasses. I knew I would be sad not to have recorded them. But there we are. I wish I'd photographed the soil where they fell - so you could see their masses and masses of seeds. Ditto the sorrel - thousands of seeds turning the soil slightly rusty. Ragwort stems are too stout for garden sheers so they were reprieved for a few days, then we went back with secateurs.

Ragwort is one of the most beautiful plants ever, yet it has to go!
Ragwort is one of the most beautiful plants ever, yet it has to go!
It's a wonderful site. The gardeners there are clearly accomplished. There will be a lot to live up to. Fruit bushes drip with raspberries and blackcurrants. There are rows and rows of strawberry plants. But there are flowers too. Some people are even making a feature of the grasses. And there are lots of sheds and greenhouses. And nearly everyone who has a greenhouse or shed has a 'backgarden' behind it - an area hidden off from the rest of the world, where they can simply sit and 'be' which is a wonderful resource in a densely populated area.

I've never seen an allotment site like this one. There's an office and a store and a water pipe which loops up and down the plots and a loo - and really importantly - we are not expected to achieve perfection in a year.

And no way will we.

In the first post on this blog I said I wanted blackberries. And now we have them - growing on a bank on the other side of the boundary wall. And reachable. I've had to clip them back and we'll need to lean over for the fruit when it's ripe but there's no bramble patch to clear. Hurray!

There's no bind weed either. No nettles. The soil is black and fine. The grasses can be dug out without too much trouble.

Pile of orange bread baskets.
Brightly coloured, industrial bread baskets litter the plot. Don't know why!
None the less, it took about three hours to prepare the first bed. A second one is part-way there. Once that's plant-free we will sow four vegetable crops. The current idea is for onions, kohlrabi, spring greens and chard. If anyone thinks this is a bad choice, please say soon because the first sowing will be in the next few days.

A previous allotmenteer created slightly-raised beds over about a third of the plot so that's where we are making a start, digging out wild-plants on alternate beds and chucking them onto the other alternating beds so the cut down grasses and the plants we'd prefer not to be growing there will begin to suffocate, making it easier to dig them out and be replaced with green manure later. (Gardening is disgustingly destructive.) There is no overall plan yet but this seems a good way to start. There are loads of objects to clear - masses of industrial bread baskets and other 'containers' and 'troughs' so each 'session' is divided in un-equal parts between gathering rubbish, cutting down grasses and, sadly, pulling out wild plants so we can grow food instead.

When it's cool and quiet and slightly drizzly, it's a lovely place to work. Sad and exciting. Can't have all joy. I saw a toad. Three days later I saw it dead.


ADRIAN said...

My brother had an allotment for a dozen years. Six or seven used to collaborate and then share the harvest. Most of their time was spent drinking beer and gossiping.

Flighty said...

It's all looking and sounding good. I have rosebay willow herb growing up through the log pile. Shame about the toad. xx

elaine said...

I enjoyed this post Lucy - it is a hard decision to make to get the balance right between keeping some wild and taming the rest - but it looks like you are making good progress - the soil looks in good condition though so you should get some good harvests - ias you are working at the back end of the year I don't suppose there will be an awful lot to harvest - but it will be a start - looking forward to seeing how things progress.

karen gimson said...

You made the right decision. It will be a challenge, but worth it. Good luck. Love karen x

Linda aka Crafty Gardener said...

Looks like you will be getting your exercise on the allotment. A worthwhile challenge.

Margaret said...

Good luck with your allotment, you sound very organised. Your pictures remind me of our allotment when we first took it on--lots of weeds and rubbish.

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

Hello Adrian. I'm feeling a bit reclusive rather sociable at present while I'm there. It's the closest I get to the countryside. (I'm not really a beer person but am looking forward to the prospect of bonfires.)

Hello Flighty. I've put a couple of clay pots on their sides in case they turn out to be useful new for toads (and frogs?) if they are being displaced while I clear grasses.

Hello Elaine. I've not met soil like this before. It's black. And very fine. Initially, I was sad I was starting at this time of year because there wouldn't be much in the way of crop. But in the event I've decided it's just right because there's no pressure to bung things in the ground before it's ready. And with the soil being so fine, I hope there will be long stretches when I can sensibly 'weed' - which wouldn't be the case on clay.

Thanks Karen.

Hello Linda. Definitely looking forward to the air and exercise!

Hell Margaret. That's encouraging. (And thanks for the pond advice too.)

Diana Studer said...

We saw our first toad today as we were walking along the road - sadly, flattened.

Down by the sea said...

Your words remind me of the time when we had an allotment off Rylands Lane and the work and friendly community support that grew there. I must admit I did used to often stop weeding and just take in the view of the sea! Enjoy your allotment and good luck with growing things in that black soil. I will look forward to seeing updates on your progress. Sarah x

colleen said...

Very exciting! Alice Fowler suggested spinach showings this week. I've never had much luck with it, but it might suit Halifax.

Anna said...

Oh have fun on your new plot Lucy! Glad to read that it doesn't have bindweed and I hope that there is no mares tail. Butterflies like nettles - that's my excuse for allowing a few to linger.