When I first arrived in Blewbury I met Jag Cook in the Red Lion and he pretty much sold me on the idea of allotment — a chance to grow some fresh veggies and get some serious exercise at the same time. What could be better I thought. Better than going to a gym or flogging around the streets.
A full size allotment is 250 square metres and is traditionally measured in poles, an old measurement dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. 10 poles is the accepted size of an allotment, about the size of a doubles tennis court. It seemed like a big area to me so Chris Gimblett and I agreed to share. He, being a bit on the brainy side, thought we should take a totally innovative mathematical approach—i.e. covering the allotment with black plastic and then planting through it in some geometric planting pattern. An older allotment holder was highly scornful, scoffing at our pathetic attempts. He was right of course, as the back plastic disintegrated and those powerful weeds said thank you very much for providing perfect damp weed growing conditions, with a few struggling cabbage plants for competition. So we gave up on that idea. After years of digging, fighting the weeds, lack of time etc, we discovered that you need to put in a consistent effort — a few hours a week, not leaving it for 4 weeks and then hoping a blast of action will restore control.
So with Chris having left the village, I reverted to a half allotment and this year decided on a new raised bed strategy, converting my 5 poles to 8 raised beds about 2 m by 4 m—so all very manageable. Of course, as they were raised beds I needed extra soil and a local farmer duly obliged. Unfortunately he couldn’t put it on my allotment but put it on an adjacent allotment. Ah fine you might think, but the adjacent allotment holder was not too amused to have 10 tons of soil dumped on his recently dug allotment!!! Needless to say the pressure was on to move it. So I drafted in the whole family to move this soil. This was met with some derision and laughter, but a few brave souls helped me move 10 tons of wet soil. It took ages to move it and restore my neighbour’s allotment. But at least I had some half-filled raised beds. Now I needed manure and Matt Napper kindly supplied 2 large loads of manure. Again a family moving event, although I am seriously straining relations on this front now!!!. So summer arrived and we planted up—amazingly it has been the most productive summer of veg so far in 35. Whether it was the raised beds and ability to keep on top of weeds, or the magnificent manure from Matt, or the g-kids around to help plant things (and scoff all the raspberries) or the weather, which was dry initially (so few slugs) and then warmish with rain showers, I don’t know. Probably some combination, but I feel I have turned a corner. After 35 years it is about time really. So now, it’s the end of summer, time to clear up this year’s allotment. However, I feel another experiment coming on—shall I plant some autumn and winter veg.??, will warmer winters driven by climate change allow the winter veg to survive?? Will the family help dig the allotment over? Doubtful!! All exciting stuff – so watch this space!! Paul Whitehead