Monday, 8 August 2011

Could this be my future? (part 2)

A bed of (curly/sea) kale, under protective netting. Pristine, beautiful. Enough for the whole winter! Needless to say, I'm jealous.

Early August is a perfect time for an open day. Almost everything is at its peak - the flowers certainly are, and there are still some vegetables that I associate more with spring and early summer, like broad beans, alongside midsummer favourites like runner beans, raspberries (must have been late season varieties), tomatoes, potatoes, maize, and things I'd expect to be ready much later in the year, like cabbages, kale, and leeks. The brassicas in particular were impressive - beautiful fat cabbages, perfect under their mesh protection, some silver-grey, some tinged with purple, others pale green. Onions, broccoli, lettuces - they were all represented. I was surprised how large some things were - pumpkins the size of cannonballs (mine are still marble-sized), fats cobs of corn - while others seemed late, those same crops freshly-planted. It seems the sowing and planting windows in the books and on seed packets are much more flexible in reality.

Another surprise - livestock! I didn't realise you could keep chickens and ducks on allotments - or together in the same cage! They seemed unperturbed by all the visitors. I'd love to keep both, especially ducks.

One "crop" I didn't expect was poultry. I suppose I may have heard of people keeping animals on allotments before, but it was still unexpected - clearly the rules here are quite flexible. I have toyed with keeping bantams at home, as my garden is too small for full-sized birds, but this would be perfect - there's space for them, and they provide a means of recycling waste plant material and pests like snails into fertiliser on site (and faster than composting).

Grapes weren't as popular as tomatoes, but there were a few - including the punnet I bought. Most seemed unripe, which is to be expected at this time of year. Growing them under glass means this person must be serious about fruit production, rather than just growing them as an ornamental.

Down the main avenue, I found more of the same - some plots were open, others more secluded. A big surprise was the many channels of water that ran through the site - between the plots and even under the paths, which crossed them on little wooden bridges. In fact, the whole area these allotments are on was once a glacial lake, which was largely drained in the eighteenth century, but the fact that the water was only a few inches lower than the grass paths, and was all around the site, was both charming and slightly unnerving. It had rained heavily overnight, but even so - I wonder if there is a problem with waterlogging, although none of the plots showed any sign of it (raised beds were the norm). One advantage, in either case, would be (despite piped water being provided, and water butts abounding), no shortage of water for irrigation (and I suppose you could even try growing watercress and other water-loving vegetables).

The biggest, densest, most perfect bed of strawberries I have ever seen. It ran half the length of this allotment, and although it's long past their season, the harvest was doubtless immense. Clearly the plot of a fanatic!

I have to admit, I didn't like the middle of the site as much as the first section I'd seen, as it was more open, but there were still hundreds of little corners, sheds and summer houses, secluded nooks and private spots. With fields on three sides, and a quiet road on the fourth, the whole site is peaceful, but still only a mile and a half from the town centre. I started to think, maybe this was where I wanted to be...

Concluded in part three...

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