|The very idea of an allotment conjures up visions of neat rows of bountiful vegetables, wigwam canes heaving with pretty sweet peas, rustic raised beds and a smart potting shed in the corner. Whilst my Auntie’s allotment is exactly like this (complete with neat picket fence, wooden bench and bunting), my own experience of having an allotment is somewhat different.
When the children were small, the opportunity arose to share custody of a plot at a local allotment. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my time tending the plot, there were certainly more challenges that I expected. Back breaking couch grass, slug attacks, too little rain (and too little watering), too much rain (leading to ‘bolting’ vegetables and no, this doesn’t mean they upped sticks and headed for a better tended plot) and worst of all...whinging small children. The only positive memories that they could recall from the allotment days were the snacks bought en route as bribery and digging up the potatoes (which is something I suppose)!
Despite all this, there really is nothing quite like growing, picking and eating your own produce and yes, we did manage it! We had success with beans (all sorts), courgettes, potatoes and more. But when I started The Wise House, my poor plot suffered. I had to admit defeat and after 3 years of allotmenteering, I handed back the keys.
In the years since, I have really missed growing my own vegetables, and so decided to have a go at creating a small vegetable patch in our back garden. I signed up for an Urban Constant Garden from Rocket Gardens. The concept is simple; they send you a diverse range of vegetable and herb plants throughout the year and you do the rest. As I find deciding exactly what to grow and when one of the most challenging parts, this suits me perfectly.
Prior to the arrival of the first shipment in May, you are supposed to prepare between 5-8m squared of space. We had gotten as far as to build and prepare two raised beds at the end of the garden; with another raised bed, large bean planter and an old sink all in place but sitting empty.
When the plugs finally arrived in a huge box with a note suggesting that they be put in the ground within 24 hours, I realised I had a serious amount of work to do! It was a baking hot day, which is lovely in theory (and goodness knows I love the sun) but in practice gave an extra layer of sweat and panic to the whole proceedings, as I imagined my beautiful new plugs withering before my eyes.
The small plants arrived cleverly layered in a bed of straw - it was a bit like playing lucky dip at the school fete. Each batch comes with a label, which is useful if you are a relative novice and struggle to tell your beetroot from your kale (more on that later). After about an hour of unpacking, the first job was to soak them in water for which I used a plethora of plastic containers.
Whilst they were having a drink in the shade, I gave the soil another quick turnover and raked it flat (a bit like making up the bed for special guests) followed by sprinkling over some of the enclosed wormcast fertiliser (a bit like showering the bed with rose petals). I then set about filling the other containers, only to frustratingly run out of soil halfway through. This necessitated a quick dash to the local garden centre - I heaved those bags onto that trolley like a contestant from World’s Strongest Man and whisked them home to finish the job.
Time for planting! You are sent a very clear instruction sheet, with useful information on planting depth and distance. First in were the leeks, which I planted to the letter, only to later come across...the leeks. It was in fact the onions that I had planted first, so I hope they don’t respond unkindly to being planted a little deeper than usual. I got my kale and beetroot jumbled up (they look very similiar to my untrained eye) so they are integrating with each other nicely in a neat little line.
Other than that the planting went smoothly; in between school pick-ups, club runarounds, cooking dinner, trying to keep the rabbit away from my new tasty guests. It was actually all rather exciting, as a vegetable patch emerged before my eyes. When my husband arrived home he found me covered in soil and wrestling the bean planter (don’t get saucy now).