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…