Sunday, 11 March 2012

In lieu of an allotment

It's definitely spring - the frogs are swarming through my friends' (and their neighbours') garden, and there's plenty of spawn. Frogs can be startling when disturbed, but are useful for keeping down numbers of slugs and snails.

Last October, the waiting list for the allotment site I visited in August stood with person #19 at the top - I am #45. As of just now, nothing has changed. That's pretty galling - that there has been no movement in nearly half a year. I don't expect to be around here for long enough to get even close to the top of the list - which is a shame, because the site is really lovely.

But a couple of years ago, before I ever considered such a formal move, I had another idea. My friend, who I helped with tomatoes last summer, has a large (classic, metal-framed, glass) greenhouse, and a long garden, in which she and her fiancé have started carving a garden - including raised beds. It crossed my mind I could make use of some of the space - they like the idea of a garden, but are very busy and not totally sure about what to do. But I pushed it from my mind - they live far enough away that I might not have been assiduous in visiting, and a garden needs discipline. And last year, they made some effort of their own accord - I gave them plants, and a little advice, but let them see how it went for themselves.

However, I decided to make my suggestion a week ago, partly because I know they had an imperfect time last summer. It was a bad year for tomatoes, and although their chillies and runner beans thrived, I don't think they felt terribly spurred on by the experience. Surprisingly, they were very keen, so I've effectively doubled my planting space. So here's the plan:

I sent them a list of the seeds I have. They picked what they most wanted to grow and eat. That's the core of the planting - because it's their space, and because it will hopefully encourage them if they can pick what they enjoy eating. Most of what they wanted can go in now - beetroot, spinach, carrots, onions, salad leaves, radishes - and the rest (such as squash) can follow on in two or three months. The idea occurred that, in the time before the tomatoes and peppers go in their final positions (we have both sown some, and can share plants and varieties, in case either of us suffers unexpected setbacks), I can sow some pots of spinach, carrots, and beetroot in the greenhouse to get a faster crop - perhaps a couple of weeks to a month earlier than the outdoor crops.

I went over today, to check out the space (it's been a few months), and get started. We made excellent progress - all the crops were sown, except the 'forced' roots and leaves, which I'll set to next weekend. We also got in some sweet peas, basil, and yet another variety of tomato, seeds of which my friend had lying around. I had bought some onion sets last week, and those went into modules to start off, ready for planting outdoors in a week or two. I also helped clear some of the perennial weeds.

Fresh sowings. In a week, the first shoots should have emerged - even on a resolutely cloudy day like today, the greenhouse was much warmer than outdoors.

The raised bed. My friends may build more, but for now, this is the centre of outdoor planting. We divided it into four, sowing three sections with two rows each of carrots 'Amsterdam 3 sprint', spinach 'Medania', and beetroot 'Boltardy'; the fourth will be planted with onions.

At the centre here is a bed of blackcurrants - they give a crop every year, but are swamped by brambles and what my friend describes as 'grass', although I suspect it may be a member of the lily family.

After a concerted attack with a sturdy knife and secateurs, I've made some headway - I'll continue on my next visit.

Having a second garden to tend to has already encouraged me to do some work in mine - I'm hoping I'll learn a bit of discipline this year, something I could use a lot more of.

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