• Jon Matthews

The 15B Diaries - Part 4: Planting

The 'Beast from the East' and its little brother caused a slight delay in our attempts to get our first seeds in the ground. Out of season snow and cold weather is terrible for plants but fortunately for us the only plants we had outside were some strawberries in a hanging basket, which we protected by taping a carrier bag over the top. They survived and are now doing very well indeed.

Once the unusual weather phenomenon passed us by we were able to begin planting some hardier plants under plastic cloches as well as our first root vegetables. We dug some small trenches, added some broken crockery and filled the trenches with quality compost before adding the seeds and plenty of plant food. Onions, spinach, shallots, spring onions and carrots are now in the ground with shoots very much in evidence. We may have sowed our first seeds slightly early but we were keen to get started and enjoyed spending the first sunny days of the year at the allotment.

Many allotmenteers use raised beds and whilst there is nothing wrong with that, my preference is for planting directly into the soil, even if that requires additional labour and extra fertilizer. There is something I find very wholesome and aesthetically pleasing about plants growing straight out of the ground, rather than a bed or pot. I believe that the relationship we have with the soil is an important one, as it is our prime resource, comrade and foe on the allotment. In growing from the soil we replicate nature's patterns and create areas of bare soil that are good for attracting bees and other pollinators.

Not all of nature is helpful though and finding ways to deal with pests seems to be an important aspect of growing food. The owners of a neighbouring plot, who are giving up, told us that they have had numerous issues with rats. After some reading about different methods of reducing these issues I decided to put some mint plants in tubs around the allotment, as mint is a smell that rats do not like. I am hoping this will be helpful - though I imagine that looking for new ways to cope with pests is something we will be continually doing.

As well as some seeds in the ground, we also have many potted at home and showing the first signs of growth, ready to be transplanted into the ground when they are more developed. This includes aubergine, radish, beetroot, brocolli, mange tout and leeks. We also have cherry tomatoes and peppers, which will need to be very strong indeed before they are moved to the allotment site. Our kitchen windowsill is truly looking as if it belongs to a gardener.

On the whole things are going well, though we have encountered a few problems that need solving. We have discovered that we have put our decking in an area that gets no shade and our composter in an area that receives little sunshine. As such, we are going to rearrange things on the allotment in an attempt to ensure everything is in a suitable location, this is going to require some heavy work but is an important thing to do.

We are currently waiting on a delivery of well rotted manure which we can use to nourish the ground ready and ensure it is ready for the next steps. I have gathered wood, to put an edge on the deck and replace rotting borders, as well as roof tiles, for additional paths, and bricks from skips. There is much work ahead and a great deal to be learned but we are very much enjoying ourselves and pleased with how things are coming along.

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