January 2021 – and there was me thinking there wouldn’t be much to do this month…
To be honest I haven’t done much physically at the allotment but I have used my time to plan… and order a few things…
Apart from the onion, garlic and broad beans that were planted at the end of October, the rest of the plot, both old and new, is covered in membrane with cardboard underneath. It doesn’t look very pretty but its job right now is to starve the perennial weeds of light.
The allotments here in this part of South Wales are plagued in particular by bindweed and couch grass and being perennial means they will appear every year. The cardboard and membrane won’t get rid of the weeds completely, but starving them of light means they will have to work harder at finding it, so in the spring when they do emerge the weeds are much weaker than they would be otherwise.
The trick then is to hand weed as soon as they are visible, thereby weakening them further until they just give up and don’t bother you anymore. I can tell first hand that this does work because we were overrun with bindweed when we first took on the plot and in the areas that we have worked on, if we get any at all now they are just weedy little things (pardon the pun!). The soil underneath isn’t being affected by the covering either, in fact it will be all the better for the lack of disruption as the worms and micro-organisms will have had free rein to do what they do best without the interruption of the destruction caused by a spade or a fork.
With this in mind, I must just mention a documentary I watched yesterday that I think you might find interesting. It’s called ‘Kiss the Ground’ narrated by Woody Harrelson and was released in 2020. It seems to be only available on Netflix, but you can watch the trailer (seen by over 9 million people already) here on YouTube .
It had been recommended to me because of the mention of soil, so I was expecting a more localised piece about allotmenting, but it is so much more. It highlights the sense of ‘no-dig’ on a global scale and how it can help reverse climate change, and it explains how carbon and cows are not the enemies we perhaps think they are.
The film focuses on USA agriculture, but what they discuss is easily translated to our shores and even our small allotments and gardens. As you will know, I am becoming an advocate of ‘No-Dig’. It’s something I have only learned about since having an allotment and the more I learn, the more it all makes sense to me. I had already decided to extend our grass paths on one side of the plot rather than use hard landscape materials, thereby encouraging more of the helpful bacteria and organisms we need to help balance our planet.
But since watching the film, I feel we all need to be doing a bit more, however small. I feel it will take an awful lot of education and motivation for this to happen, though. The film is the best part of two hours long, but if you are interested I promise you won’t be bored and I recommend you watch through the credits …as Woody Harrelson narrates over the ‘vox pop’ “If recycling and paper straws are our only hope, then we are in really big trouble“. If you can, have a watch and let me know what you think.
I’m off my soap box now 👍
Early on this month I managed to persuade my husband to come and help me remove the smaller pile of weeds that had been left at the end of November. I had been disappointed that there were two areas I had been unable to clear before the weather changed and the plot wasn’t quite how I had planned to leave it, but now this area was clear we could lay membrane which would give it a couple of months at least to help with the weed control. We are now left with this mound to clear before the end of March.
It all looks so miserable, doesn’t it? Not only do we need to clear this pile of weeds and debris, we also need to clear the rubbish that we inherited from the previous plot owners which is stacked against the wall. The allotment committee occasionally organise the removal of rubbish once there is enough to make it worthwhile, but because of the lockdown restrictions the council won’t let any third party enter the plots, so its a case of waiting. But as gloomy as this photo is (the reality of allotments in the winter months), you have to look beyond and envisage what is to come. My plan is to create an asparagus bed where this pile of weeds is now, so I have good incentive to get it shifted!
Planning where to plant things is not only fun to do but essential unless you don’t mind getting in a pickle. I love planning. It’s a brilliant procrastinator activity too, I get lost in the delight of imagining how it will all look in the summer when most things are in full bloom or at their ripest. I’m still aiming for a Potager style plot and now we have extra space I have been able to incorporate so much more. Potager, as you’ll see in the link is the French version of the English cottage garden, but it focuses on vegetables rather than flowers. However there are an abundance of flowers in a potager garden, just used in a different way.
Knowing how my mind works, I will read up on planning a potager garden, plan to follow the rules of it, then I get bored and will just do my own thing incorporating aspects of it all. The end result won’t be recognisable to purists but will hopefully be a happy mishmash of fruit, vegetables and flowers, planted with some kind of logic which will probably only make sense to me, but will be an abundant growing space that will give me and others pleasure.
So for several hours this month I’ve had the seed packets out (again) and the graph paper; pencils; eraser; ruler and have set about plotting where to put everything. As you’ll know from previous posts I’ve planned the plots before, but you have to get it right, right?
This time, though, I have realised why my planning has never quite worked in the past. I have, in some sort of fashion created a sowing list of when to sow and plant and had dutifully drawn or written these down on the grid, but this doesn’t take into consideration successional planting and what you can fit into the spaces created once a particular veg has been harvested.
I did some homework and followed an online course by Huw Richards. He simplified it all by suggesting that instead of a year planner, you make a month planner and mark down the growing areas for each month, taking into consideration what month seeds need to be sown etc. It was like a lightbulb going on, it made so much more sense! I also treated myself to the 2021 No Dig calendar by Charles Dowding which helpfully gives planting dates to follow. He’s the No Dig guru, so if you are interested in learning more, his website will give you all you need to know.
As well as planning where to plant the veg, I’ve also allowed an area to grow cut flowers. I enjoyed the sweet-peas and dahlias so much last year that thought I would grow more this year. I’ve also left an area to sow wild meadow flowers for the pollinators, so with the companion planting like nasturtiums and marigolds, the cut flower beds and the wild meadow I’m hoping 2021 will see the plot a riot of colour as well as providing lots of lovely veg.
The planning hasn’t stopped there of course, it’s also meant I’ve looked at the actual growing spaces and with my husband’s eyes firm fixed skyward again (it’s been a while😉) the original raised beds are getting a revamp.
Don’t get me wrong, I love our raised beds, and as you know they took effort to create but I feel they are now not quite fit for purpose, so I plan to reduce the number from ten to six beds with an ‘in-the-ground’ bed replacing those I remove. I’ve no idea if an ‘in-the-ground’ bed is even a thing, it just means planting straight into the ground, but it seems to explain what I mean. I was hoping to get all these in place this month but the weather has beaten me, so the planks of wood are taking up space in our kitchen until such time I can get them up to the plot and will assemble them there. I put the two small beds together but the bigger 1.2m x 1.8m beds will have to wait.
Brits always have an opinion about snow. A lot hate it because of the disruption it causes but many, like me, absolutely love it. It’s not often we get enough of a dump of the stuff to really shout about, but I’ll admit to a tiny bit of excitement at waking up to everything covered in that white blanket although I now just like looking at it rather than having the urge to play in it. Earlier this month we had a fall of a few centimetres, nothing to cause too much disruption but it did make everything look lovely. I went up to the plot to check for footprints as in 2019 (last time we had snow) and yep, there they were again, Mr Fox and Mr Rat had obviously had a fine old time with prints all over the place.
February is just a few days away, which is hard to believe. The concept of time for me has completely changed. The lockdowns and other changes in my life have contributed to the state of limbo that I’m sure many of us are feeling right now which is making the allotment for me, all the more important. I really don’t want to wish my time away but I am SO looking forward to the spring with the warmer weather and longer days. I hope you are all well and safe and enjoying your growing spaces, large or small and see you again in a month.