Before photos

1 March 2015

Here’s some photos I took on 25 October 2014, the weekend I took over plot 96 at Spital Farm allotments.

You can see that the plot is overgrown with ground cover. There’s a few rows of old broad beans. Generally it was in good shape for a plot that hadn’t been regularly tended for a year or so.

Later in the week, I’ll post more photos showing how far I’ve come clearing the site.


Gardening: old skool

20 April 2008

“Glad to see you doing it by the book” commented Bill as he watched Barry and I struggle digging out the confused and coagulated weed roots.

Digging, old skool.


Well, as I explained to Eamon yesterday, it’s a modified version of the single dig. Dig a trench; collect the spoil; fill the trench from behind; fill the last trench with your original spoil.


Except, in my version, I’m digging out the trench spade-by-spade (actually fork-by-fork) into my barrow and spending several minutes picking out the roots and chopping up the soil. After filling the barrow, the spoil is tipped back in the trench.


It’s bloody hard work. But, it could save forever picking out ground elder and doc weeds. And, as I see it, it’s giving the soil some good structure.


Digging, old skool.

Compare: some of the neighbours.


Blue overalls at number 7: rotovating and mechanical tilling; fake looking soil though you have to admire his horse poo.


George, the newcomer: more rotovating by a helper, no less; benefited from the previous tenant’s plastic covering; fake soil, might as well be astroturf; no callouses from digging, no back ache or pins and needles down the arms.

Give me proper, man-powered digging.

Gardening, old skool.


Just ask my ‘helper’.

The Poo Hits the Fan

5 April 2008


Bill’s polytunnel saga continues.

Backstory: Bill applied to the Parish Council, who run the allotments, to erect a small polytunnel (about 8 foot long by 6 foot wide by 6 foot high) last Spring.

The council refused his application. To the best of my knowledge, the councillors refused it on the grounds that they “didn’t like polytunnels”.

Fair enough. I don’t like polytunnels on allotments. To my mind, it is not in the spirit of allotmenteering and I’m sure parishoners would not like to see a allotment covered with plastic.

Bill is nothing if not determined. He wanted a polytunnel. He wanted to extend the growing season and feed his family. Bill objected and asked why he had been refused. It was around this point that things started to deteriorate. Strong words were exchanged at a council meeting. Letters were sent. Complaints made. Bill was thrown out of one acrimonious meeting by the pompous and overbearing chairman (some might, some do, call him a bully).

The latest news came in the form of a letter pinned to the Parish Council noticeboard next to the shop in the village centre. Someone, Bill almost certainly, placed it there with the intention, I guess, of embarrassing the council.

The letter is from the council clerk to the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG). It seems that there has been protracted correspondence, with the association supporting Bill’s polytunnel campaign. The clerk, I suspect egged on by the chairman or one or other member, sets out the council’s side of the story. This is all rather silly, but two points anger me.

First, the clerk says that the council had reasons for refusing the application viz. setting a precedent, noise from rustling plastic, visual intrusion. Well, that’s the first I have heard that line. As far as I know, no reasons have been minuted.

Second, the clerk’s letter appears to have enclosed a photo of Bill’s allotment showing the polytunnel. Fine. But, it now seems that the council is to take enforcement action. This leads to me suspect that a certain council member is behind the letter. That certain council member was warming up with his chainsaw yesterday.

The council is perfectly within its rights to take action against Bill. On the other hand, the way in which he has been treated is far from civilised.

At first, I thought he was a curmudgeonly old geezer. As I’ve got to know him and talk about gardening my view has changed. Bill is a strong character, one which the village would be poorer without. He has an independent streak. He likes being down the bottom of the allotments so that he doesn’t bother anyone. Like most of the other plot holders, he is more than happy to help out with practical advice. His chickens have cleared more land than the council could ever.


(That was Saturday. Sunday the letter had disappeared. I am not pointing fingers. Any one of several of the usual suspects could be to blame.)

Meanwhile, I aggravated my shoulder with some digging.


Where Bill’s chickens did their business, I started a new bed. The bed is still riddled with ground elder. I spent 5 minutes sifting through the till for roots for every one minute of digging. The spoil backfilled potato bed one.


Allotment number 7 saw a bit of mechanical tilling. As it is a relatively clear plot it probably works for him. But, with my weed cover, it’s manual digging and plenty of ibuprofen for me.


Not much more to report from the onions and garlic. Looking back down the plot, it still seems daunting. Can I get the digging done for growing season? With my shoulder?


Up at the potato bed, I dug in a couple of bags of manure. Sometime in the next 7 days I will pick up some more bags of poo.

At Wednesday night’s council meeting even more poo will be flying.


6 March 2008


Just about every muscle aches. Muscles I never knew existed are letting me know they’re there.

Two days of digging: the garlic/onion plot has had a couple of dig overs and a sprinkling of compost. The first potato plot is very nearly finished, having yielded a large crop of doc weeds.

It may look nothing much, but those few metres of dug earth are a bit like the few metres at a time that each side progressed in the trenches of Flanders. I’ve pulled out half a tonne of weeds; single dug; pulled out more weeds; turned over; turned over; picked up bits of weed root; and, dressed with compost.

The forecast looks terrible over the weekend, so my back, arms, shoulder, that other muscle that I never knew I had will likely get a rest. But, it probably puts paid to the plan to plant garlic before the end of my week off.

I’m so tired I can’t think of any witty comments. The brain is a muscle right? Well, it’s sore too.

A Man Outstanding in His Field

4 March 2008


For most of today’s five hours digging in cold sunshine, the allotment was all mine. Bill wandered up a couple of times to feed the chickens. He also offered to rotovate the top end of my half-allotment, where his chickens have pecked.

I would rather avoid using machinery, but at the time of the offer my back was barking. So, at least I’ll have a fully tilled piece of ground, even if there are still bits of weed root to pick out.

Bill added, with a chuckle, that when I lift my carpet that I will find mice living there. I haven’t seen any mice on the allotments yet. However, I did spot a couple of hawks/kestrels and, as the sun approached the yardarm, a barn owl.


The first potato bed is nearly dug. It should be finished tomorrow, weather permitting. At this rate, the earlies should go in by Easter.


Meanwhile, the onion and garlic plot has had two digs, a load of home made compost and some of B&Q’s finest peat compost (from sustainable sources).

Alex and I swapped “hellos” as I broke for lunch. He’s gone from two plots to one as part of the Parish Council’s realisation that half of the plots were being tended by a handful of people.

As the Otto the bus driver made his last run up the hill, I called it quits.


Despite a physio session at 8am this morning and loads of stretching exercise since, my back is about to seize.


28 February 2008


No, that’s not the sound of wellie through puddles – it did rain during the weekend digging.

Instead, that’s part of the latest joke about my digging efforts. My trench has, so I hear, raised some merriment and consternation up at the allotments.

“Is it a drainage system?” asked Barry.

“No, it’s a swimming pool” I answered.

Despite the mizzle of Saturday, there was enough dry to dig for five hours or so before collapsing in front of the Six Nations’ rugby. On Sunday, I got in another 2 hours before the rains came and there was a the small matter of cheering on the Spurs in the Carling Cup final in the afternoon.

After digging the original trench a few weeks back, I hit the books to do the research I should have done before.

Actually, I had done some reading: over several years. The voluminous RHS book on Fruit and Veg told me all I needed to know about the various techniques of digging. And, there was no shortage of advice from the massed ranks of allotment holders and former tenants.

Double digging had been ruled out in my head. Despite it being my dad’s sworn method (of breaking his back), the plot doesn’t lend itself. Just below one spits worth of soil lies a layer of broken rock. Shale, I’m told. I hit it when the digging started.

A basic dig over was never going to do the job. Too many perennial weeds and taproots needed to come out. More to the point, that’s not proper digging. You have to suffer to get the job done properly.


In addition to the advice, Bill had offered his chickens. And, they have done a good job over pecking out weeds at the front of the plot. There was talk of a rotovator. There was even talk of a plough.

But, both of the last two methods would not deal properly with the roots. The plot is already riddled with bits of taproots thanks to the last ploughing job a year or so ago.

Just as well that single digging was my chosen method.


Saturday also saw the appearance of my other weed control method. We got hold of a large piece of carpet through Freecycle. It seemed large as I hauled out of the car. It soon disappeared once on the plot.

By Sunday lunch I had finished digging a plot about 5 metres by 2. That will serve nicely to fit in the onions and garlic. Work also began on another trench.

However, no water wings required.

U dig

10 February 2008

Another day; another couple of hours digging; another afternoon of sore back.

A plan of sorts unfolded for the second morning in a row. I wound up in a u-bend. Flanking trenches now define the layout of the first bed.

Again without a straight edge or measuring device. I resorted to measurement by Wellington boot: nearly 9 by just over 18. Works out to something like 5 metres wide by 2 metres deep. That is plenty big enough for the (sort of) planned garlic and onion bed.

Another stunningly beautiful day with no wind, brilliant sunshine burning off a morning mist and a temperature of about 10°C.


The usual suspects were up at the allotments: Philip, Alex and Bill. A bit later on Mancs (not his real name) and, I presume, another aspirant allotmenteer wandered up.


Even with gloves, my hands hurt.