A novice's guide to producing his own food

Hitting the ground running

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Wrack weed -- lethal


The combination of shocking weather and short days has made it difficult for me to spend all the time I want at the allotment. However, like the tailor to the tallest man in the world, I have made giant strides. The most pressing task was just getting the soil dug over. It’s now done. The sixth, and final bed, is complete. A major headache was not the actual digging, but rather, weeds. Each spadeful had to be checked and sorted through for the pesky plants. Going organic meant there was no easy chemical solution.           

 The two beds nearest the road were the most laborious as they were choked with what everyone seems to call “(w)rack weed”. (Don’t know how to spell it because I can’t find it on the Net). There was kilos of it, and it all ended up in a huge pile, which I’ve been told I should burn. The weed’s roots can be a couple of feet long, and it’s almost impossible to eradicate completely, so, no doubt, I’ll have further encounters with the stuff.           

I’ve also managed to get some fruit and veg in the ground.          

The strawberry plants arrived from Dobies, and have taken over just about the whole of the fruit patch. I’m hoping to get some rasps in later (depending on the space needed for the bees). The spuds are also in the ground, after spending what must have been a month chitting. It took ages (I guess) because of the shocking weather. It has also become obvious that I bought too many seed potatoes, and must remember to get just 9kg next year instead of 12kg.         

The onions are also in, but things haven’t gone well there. Some of the bulbs were a bit soft, which I take isn’t a good sign, and the whole bed was blasted by high winds and freezing temperatures only a few days after planting. On the night the weather turned, I headed down to the allotment in waterproofs, and covered the area with fleece to protect it from the snow. Wrestling with large sheets of fabric in a howling gale and sleet, I suddenly thought, “I bet this how Captain Scott felt setting up camp.”  That was quickly followed by the realisation I’d probably best keep that one to myself.       

Instead of rectifying the situation, the fleece caused a new set of problems. It ripped in the wind, and whipped some of me poor shallots to buggery. When the weather had calmed down I noticed several bulbs had broken stems, and about a dozen had been uprooted. Onions are quite resilient, and can be popped back in the ground, but I felt the whole affair must have had a detrimental effect of some sort.       

The Gardman greenhouse on the day it was built. Within four days it was busted and lying in the burn.


The shitty weather also played havoc with my greenhouse plans. I had bought a four-foot by six-foot plastic Gardman  jobby using my Tesco Clubcard vouchers, and Janek and I spent the best part of an afternoon building it (we couldn’t find the instructions). Our bubble of satisfaction was quickly popped, though, as four days later 80mph winds lifted it into the air and dumped it in the burn. Thankfully someone pulled it out, but eight plastic joints had snapped.          

It left me feeling depressed. The grafted tomato plants could be arriving shortly. They cost a small fortune, but now I had nowhere to put them. There was no point in buying another plastic greenhouse. It’d just blow away again. I needed the real deal, and quickly. I was tempted to buy a spanky new one, but it could set me back a couple of hundred quid. And what if it gets vandalised/stolen? So, I asked around, and, bingo, I got a great deal. Someone had bought an eight-foot by six-foot aluminium greenhouse on eBay, dismantled it, but didn’t have the time to put it up again. It was mine for £25. Perfect. The only snag was no instructions. I’m gonna have to work it out for myself.          

Meanwhile, Gardman were only too happy to send out replacement joints for nothing. So, I’ve stuck the repaired and rebuilt greenhouse in my garden, and I’ll put the grafted tomatoes in it while I get the proper one sorted out. Problem solved.          

The first raised bed is complete. The spuds are going in there


I’ve also been working hard converting the six beds into “raised beds”. This involves skirting each one with wood. Raised beds seem to be the way forward although most of the old hands down at the allotment reckon I am wasting my time (and, no doubt, money). The advantage of raised beds are two-fold. Firstly, with clearly defined paths and so on, you don’t waste any time digging or fertilising areas that won’t be used for growing. Secondly, each bed can be “customised” for the crop, ie, you can add manure, bonemeal etc as required.          

Raised beds require lots of wood, and wood is expensive. An initial estimate put the cost at £200 to £300 all-in, but I noticed B&Q were selling “value” decking at £1.94 for 2.4m. Absolutely ideal. The whole project should cost in the region of £60. Factor in the £25 for the greenhouse and extra bits and bobs, and I’ve spent £100-ish so far. A bargain.      

Oh, and I mustn’t forget to talk about one final thing before I wind up this entry – shite. Or rather manure and compost. All last year I’d been saving scraps of left-over food, and using a bokashi to turn it into compost. I’d accumulated what I thought was quite a stash, but it only covered the potato bed. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to be self-sufficient when it came to this stuff, but fortunately Andy, a colleague of mine at work who also has an allotment, knew of a supply of well-rotted horse manure. He and I spent a Saturday morning shovelling the stuff into the back of my car (in bags, of course), and we split the proceeds. Even that didn’t last very long. My half was just enough for the strawbs. We’ll return another day and really collect a lot. There’s plenty left, and if we get better organised I’d like to get enough to last all year. So, two crops (potatoes and strawbs) are now growing in well-rotted organic crap. Let’s see how it affects growth. Will I get a bumper crop? Or I have I merely fed the (w)rack weed? We’ll know with the next couple of months.

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