We didn't stop believing our dream of buying & nurturing a piece of land could come true & worked hard to get here. If I could give one bit of advice.. don't EVER give up on your dream.
All of the photographs can be viewed huge if you click on them :)
Love at First Site
|My Newbury Allotment Site|
What an experience that was! I went on to study for the full diploma, which consisted of a 5 week Sustainable Land Use course, followed by several written assignments.
Above is a picture of the allotment I was given on a miserable, damp and cold late Feb. morning. On first glance it looked like the only thing going for it was the water trough at the southwest end. I was left staring at a huge 10 pole plot.
With every drip of my nose my enthusiasm was draining away...
There were hybrid berry suckers knee high in places near the far end, mixed in with the hardcore pernicious perennials. You know the ones, couch grass, Dock, Nettles, Creeping Thistle and buttercup & beautiful teasel towering above my head. It was like an undulating hillside in miniature. None of it was flat.
I desperately wanted to see what the general state of the soil was. So I took my spade and dug a few test pits sporadically over the plot. The results weren’t good. It was very stony, heavy soil and 60cm down it was large aggregate. After doing the spit and roll test I decided that I had a sandy clay loam.
It was time to do the observation bit of the Permaculture design process. Not just using my eyes, but using all my senses, feeling for wind direction, variations in temperature, soil depths, shade, etc. I walked slowly around the plot, stopping from time to time. Taking in the vibe of where I stood, seeing what indicator plants there were around my feet, taking notes and drawing a basic base map. This might sound lovely, but the wind blew a stinging rain onto my cheek, the temperature was freezing, I kept falling into holes and, well, when it came to shade, I just couldn’t tell!
Should I have stopped? Probably, but I couldn’t, it was very exciting. Finally, after all this time of rented accommodation and no garden, I had my own little piece of Earth. Somewhere to carefully grow healthy food imbued with love, somewhere to hang out, whittle things, plant my Willow and most importantly, somewhere to learn how to heal soil.
At one end of the plot is a path with a ditch and two Oak trees both probably well over 120 yrs old and 40’ high. This cheered me up no end, as I’ve got a thing about trees and to have Oaks, well, that’s the ultimate! However, I knew that meant that I couldn’t be growing veg’ down there. It would have to be where my Zone 5 was, the wildlife zone. There was already Bluebells 3 inches high, Pulmonaria and Celandine down there. It could be the perfect spot for… oh pants; it’s not the time for planning! It is so hard to resist designing the entire area before even getting home, having a cup of tea and taking stock.
So I went home, made a cup of tea, defrosted and got my soggy base map out. For the next 3 weeks I would communicate via grunts and nods only looking up from my A3 pad and colouring pencils to go to the loo. It was design time.
I thought it would be a good plan to make a list of all the fruit and veg’ I love, and what I’d need to grow them. It was a very, very long list. So, after much thought I called my friendly council-man and rented the 10 pole plot next door. I was expanding before I’d even dug a bed. My partner was slightly concerned but thought it best not to interfere at this stage, as I was mildly obsessed.
|Willow bed planted late Feb 2004|
|Same willow bed 4 months later! Thats comfrey in the foreground.|
|The Permaculture Herb Spiral|
Meanwhile, back at the house, I had decided that in order for me to catch up with the growing season I would get a couple of those three tiered plastic greenhouses to germinate the seeds in. They worked fantastically, and now provided much needed shelving space, without their covers, in the greenhouse & shed.
Phew! It was certainly hectic and I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I had to do a ‘proper’ job at the same time.
|Squashes & pumpkins|
|Raised strawberry bed interplanted with onions.|
|The best compost bins in the world ever.|
|Reclaimed, professionally cleaned IBC collecting from the greenhouse & the shed.|
The plan was for us to locate a large water butt between the shed and the greenhouse in order to collect rainwater from both roofs at a single point. Lucky for us we were given a professionally reclaimed bulk container.
It would have been used for storing liquid chemicals, but now it’s being used to store up to 1000 litres of water. The container is raised up on reclaimed concrete blocks and is a perfect vertical space for some climbers next year.
The Open Day
In July we had an open day at the allotment site. There were so many people on my plot that I hid behind the shed. But, I soon got found out and had a queue of people asking questions and wanting a tour. It was wonderful. They loved the diversity of flowers and veg all happily growing together. They were inspired by the pond and habitats. More than once I heard an excited adult singing out and pointing at the Dragonfly and it’s mate ‘doing the business’ and laying.
|Borage is a wonderful thing!|
Many people were interested in ideas on how to supress weeds, pests and diseases without using chemicals. Which was easy to explain because I could just show them living examples.
Some of the guy’s that have been on the site for over 25 years, following the same routines, have told me that after seeing how my plots have developed, they will re-think how they grow their crops from now on. Mixing their veg planting with some flowers, creating some wood piles, putting up wildlife boxes, reducing (and in some cases stopping) pesticide & herbicide use. They weren’t sure at first, but they’re sure now. That’s got to be a result!
And so to Bed
We are in the process now of putting the soil to bed – mulching for the winter, planting a hedge and some apple trees, and building wildlife habitats. I’m going to plant some more Willow too, as a windbreak on the South West corner, as that’s where the worst of the wind comes from.
After spending so much time with the plots over the past 10 months I can work in a more harmonious way, and understand their needs, and mine, much better.
It’s not appropriate for everyone to do their growing on this scale to start with. “The best size of veg plot for an inexperienced person is 3x3m” – Patrick Whitefield. Which is great because the average garden nowadays isn’t much bigger than that. The area I grow veg in works out at about 10mx4m (not including the paths in between). The rest is there for wildlife, fruit and playing with.
I’ve always moved around, living in rented accommodation, never putting down any roots. Even now I don’t know where I’ll be next year. I realised that my desire to grow things went beyond just producing food. It’s the soil, wildlife, everything that needs to be nurtured, even if it is just for a year or a few months. We can positively impact the little bit of Earth under our feet, regardless of whether or not we’re there to benefit from it. So, if you are anything like I was and are waiting till you’ve got your own bit of land, my advice is - don’t, live like there’s no tomorrow and get out there and grow your leeks in a bucket if you have to.