The Allotment – Part 2

When I introduced the allotment, I told the story of the first week or so.

When I left it, we’d just created our first bed, ready to start planting. At this point, we discovered the wonders of the allotment community, as other plotholders came to welcome us to the site, and offer hints, tips and advice. We soon met our immediate neighbours, one of whom gave us a whole heap of freshly-dug leeks – clearly not expecting anything in return. Another told us the story of the previous tenants of our plot, who had started clearing it several times, only to give up after doing the same bed over and over.

One more experienced plotholder, Ted, took great pains to introduce himself to us, despite being totally deaf – we have since found out that he is 93, yet looks barely into his eighties, and he tends to his plot daily, as well as feeding the site’s resident cat, Molly.

Ted kindly gave us some cuttings from his blackcurrent bushes, so we had our first plants – we planted these in the initial bed, as it seemed an ideal position for fruit canes – we later added raspberries to the other side of the bed.

After clearing some more of the plot, we also decided to create some paths – something I’d certainly recommend, especially for novice growers like ourselves, as it stops you getting quite so muddy when weeding, and stops you trampling the crops!

For these, we used readily available “weed-proof” membrane, covered in a layer of wood chippings from the heap provided by the council – although while this is natural, and looks great to start with, it’s not as weed-proof as it might be, as the weeds seed themselves in the wood, on top of the membrane…

We also edged the beds in timber to give a clearer definition – initially using new rough-cut wood from a local DIY store, but later using recycled timber once we were able to get hold of some. Two recycled pallets were also added to provide a strawberry planter, although in hindsight this turned out to be difficult to keep sufficiently well watered.

By this time, of course, we were itching to get planting. We’d ordered loads of seeds from the Real Seed Catalogue, and made the classic mistake of all new gardeners – we ordered far more than we knew what to do with! Quite a few things are difficult to get started from seed, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing!

So our first planting wasn’t from seed at all, but garlic cloves from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. Cue our next novice mistake – we didn’t label which cloves were which!

The other big thing for the first winter was setting up a compost bin – an essential feature of any allotment or vegetable garden, we chose to start with a standard plastic bin, to try to keep the vermin out. This has since become Ania’s favourite subject, with all our scraps going in, and at the time of writing it’s rotting down nicely, hopefully the bottom layers will be ready to use this spring…

So, Define ethical?

We are not perfect.

I’ll start with that one to start with. If you’re looking for a guide to living the perfect ethical, sustainable lifestyle, then I’m afraid this isn’t it, and never will be, for the simple reason that everyone’s ideas and ideals are different.

What we want to do, then, is to simply do the best that we can, within the limits with which we are faced – some set by ourselves, some by other people, and some by mother nature herself.

Our aims, then, are threefold:

  • Reduce our use of resources, and our levels of waste (sustainability)
  • Reduce our negative impact on other people, animals and the natural environment (ethical)
  • Reduce our reliance on other people & systems (freedom)

We don’t expect to be able to eliminate any of these, but we can at least try.

I’m sure, however, that some of the things we will do (or won’t do) will be different to those other people will advocate, and I make no apologies for this – we’re doing it our way.

I recently read This post  on the blog Moral Fibres, in which the author tells of how she, upon posting an article about eggs, received abuse over email from someone upset that she “wasn’t being vegan enough” – This is, in my view, totally unacceptable, for the author was doing what she believes to be right, and did not deserve to be abused for it – indeed such behaviour would put a lot of people off, and send them back to being excessive consumers. Just because you believe in living your life a certain way does not give you any right to dictate to others how they should lead theirs (especially when you’re  advocating ethical behaviour, as abuse is certainly not ethical!)

So we won’t be saying “this is what you should do” – we’ll be saying “this is what we’re doing, it’d be great if you’d like to join us”


One man’s rubbish…

…is another man’s treasure.

We love charity shops.

They seem to go through phases as far as the general public are concerned, usually depending on whether ‘retro’ is in fashion at the time. What always amazes me, however, is the treasures you can find – things that people throw away.

While I’ve never found anything truly valuable in monetary terms, I’ve found all sorts of books and DVD box sets for a fraction of their retail price – often new and unopened – and Ania frequently comes out with lovely clothes, including designer dresses, in new or nearly-new condition.

Why is it that people are so fickle to throw such things away? At least with a charity shop the stuff is getting another lease of life, but it always makes me wonder just how much doesn’t get donated or resold, and just goes straight to the bin after just one or two uses…

The one advantage of course, is that it’s great for people like us, we can go and buy as many books as we like without any guilt – we’re saving them from being pulped! This does mean we do have a rather large book collection however!

Alas, it seems that not all charities are equal – I won’t name any names (I don’t have any evidence for a start), but some these days seem to be run more like businesses than charities, with highly paid CEOs and senior management, and targets – how can you have sales targets when you’re entirely dependant on donations for your stock?

We prefer then to stick with smaller, local charities, where hopefully more of the money actually goes to the cause they support – obviously there will always be some overheads, and there is a need for some paid staff as you can’t always rely on volunteers for everything, but it shouldn’t be excessive.

What amazing treasure have you found in a charity shop?

Food for thought

As I mentioned in the introducing the allotment post , one of the first decisions we made was to put a lot more effort into eating well.

After we moved house last year, we were blessed with a large (though not that well laid out) kitchen, and a good size larder with a traditional stone shelf – perfect for storing fresh veg.

Arming ourselves with a few cookbooks from the local charity shops, we set about learning. We’ve deliberately avoided anything fancy, mainly because we simply don’t have the time, but instead concentrated on the basics – the likes of stews, casseroles, bolognaise etc. And it turns out, unsurprisingly, that home-cooked food is a lot nicer than the ready-made stuff, as well as being a fair bit cheaper (especially later, once we started getting veg from the plot). It also doesn’t take much longer than “stick it in the oven for 30 minutes” type stuff, though obviously it involves more effort.

We’ve also been trying to get organic/free-range/fairtrade produce wherever possible – but it turns out this is harder than it sounds. Our local supermarket has a limited selection, but not a lot – especially when it comes to meat, with about half a shelf of organic chicken.

We’ve got a great butchers nearby, but of course they don’t label their meat as being organic – so we’ve been going on the assumption that non-organic meat from there is better than non-organic meat from the supermarket, and we’re continuing to search for a decent supplier of better meat.

With Veg, as well as the allotment, we’ve got a local farm shop (though they are, as you might expect, more expensive), and for a lot of other cupboard-fare we’re starting to find online suppliers who specialise in organic and fairtrade – I’ll do another post on those soon.

So it’s an ongoing process, but I think we’re making a good start…

Introducing the allotment

One of the first things we decided upon was that we needed to eat better. By cutting out the ready-meals and junk food, we would be healthier, and by knowing more about where our food comes from, we can actively choose to reduce the impact we have on the planet.

One of the best ways to do that is to grow food yourself – this cuts the ‘food miles’ down to zero, and means you know exactly  what’s gone into it – no unknown pesticides or other chemicals.

Now we have a reasonable sized garden, but when we first started thinking like this, we lived in a small flat in the town centre – and so there was no room to grow anything. Luckily, there’s a solution to this – the humble allotment.

Reading the local council’s website, we discovered the waiting list for plots in our town averages three years – and for some sites it can be up to ten. So we put our name down, more in hope than anything else.

Such was our surprise then, when just over six months later, we got a letter from the council informing us that a plot was available – did we still want it?

Well of course!

A few weeks later, Ania collected the key, and we went to have a first look at the plot. It was rather daunting to say the least! Totally overgrown, it had been barely touched by the previous tenants, with just two small beds vaguely outlined by some loose gravel.

We soon got stuck in (alas I forgot to take a ‘before’ photo, not then anticipating this blog…), and started clearing it.

Before long, the first bed regained definition, and we were ready to start planting – or would be when the weather warmed up.

To be continued…

Who are we?

So who are we, and what’s this blog all about?

We are Ania and Nick, and like millions of other people, we’re stuck in the rat race…

We live in a mid-size semi in a mid-size provincial town in the south-east of England. We both work in 9-5 office jobs, paying off a huge mortgage, though we’ve managed to avoid the dreaded commute by working in the same town.

Doesn’t sound all that exciting, does it? Exactly…

So we’ve made the conscious decision to escape the world of consumerism, “buy buy buy” and the rat-race, and to work towards a life of financial independence, ethical living and sustainability. This blog will hopefully document our efforts, sacrifices, successes and failures, in the hope that we can inspire others to do the same…