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Our best bargain
by Margaret Watson
05/24/06
For Sale
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Our best bargain

Our allotment is about the best bargain we’ve ever had- in case you don’t know about them an allotment site is a kind of public garden owned by the local authority, but with plots to rent. Usually there is a hut somewhere with someone selling compost or hiring out rotavators. There is always a notice board with details of greenhouses for sale, bake sales, barbeques and the price of onion sets. There are communal taps and somewhere a heap of horse manure waiting to be moved. There are also lots of friendly and knowledgeable people with advice when you want it and a friendly ‘How do’ as they pass.

I paid £12 that first year and was handed in exchange a tiny square of paper that said I was the tenant of plot 17. At that time it was waist deep in weeds – all the well known ones, brambles, bindweed, docks, marestails and that grass that goes by many names, some of them unprintable, that spreads so fast you can almost see it grow. And there were nettles, plenty of them, and I knew that that meant fertile ground.

It was a hard slog at first, even with the whole family joining in at least for a while. Gradually the earth appeared and we discovered blackcurrant bushes and a whole row of gooseberry plants. The compost heap grew ever higher. Putting docks and nettles on a compost heap I can hear someone say. Don’t worry. If the heap gets hot enough it will kill off the weed seeds, at least that is the theory, and anyway how else would I fill all my spare time if I didn’t have weeding to do?

The rental has gradually risen. It costs £16 a year now – but look what we get – rhubarb, strawberries, gooseberries, currants black and red, leeks, onions, shallots and this year for the first time cabbages, Brussels sprouts and golden raspberries – at least that is the plan.

We’ve had our failures of course. The soil is too heavy for carrots however much sand we dig in and spring onions just wither and vanish. One year someone stripped the
gooseberries leaving a total of 7 berries on 12 bushes. It is a public place after all. I’ve learnt to keep the more tempting items such as strawberries hidden behind rows of taller plants. Then there are the other predators – I have never yet succeeded with broad beans as something with sharp teeth always cuts them off at ground level.

On the positive side have a resident toad who lives beneath the arum leaves in the corner and feasts on the slugs.

The distance is a problem. It is two miles away up a steep hill, so you can’t just open the back door and pick a cabbage, but with a little planning it works. I have a small back garden where I grow herbs and this year a growbag greenhouse i.e. a sort of plastic tent atop a bag of compost in which I am growing beans. Beans need a lot of water and they need it often – sometimes twice a day - so it doesn’t work trying to grow them on the allotment, but they seem happy in their little house. There is room in there too for some Italian salad plants, and Greek basil, so I can just pick a few leaves when |I want.

If people think it odd to grow them in front of the house I can only explain that we weren’t really gardeners when we bought it and so didn’t realise that this is the only part that faces south west – the best direction in these northern climes if you want sunlight.

The beans are racing up the poles. Have you seen the weedy specimens at inflated prices in the garden centre? And they will be firm and snap when they are ready to pick – not bendy and limp like the ones that are sometimes for sale.

We used to have a huge freezer, but when it broke down last autumn,after many years of loyal service, we had to buy one in a hurry before almost a years supply of fruit and veg defrosted. It was evening and the only store that could deliver immediately had only one model – so we took that. It’s a bit smaller so now I bottle and dry as much as I can.
It is late spring as I write and I am urging my family to eat faster so that I’ll have room for all that the allotment produces. My advice is get an allotment if you can – there are fewer and fewer of them about as land prices rise and councils need money for other things. And buy a freezer – probably the best is at least twice as big as you think you will need – either that or collect lots of friends and lots of jars and buy a book on preserving – or do all of these!


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