Ohhhh, the weather outside is… well, actually it hasn’t been too bad of late here in North Manchester. We’ve had our share of rain, but with enough dry-ish patches in between to mean that the ground at our plot has been sticky, but workable. Although one of my near plot-neighbours, three along and down in a dip, had half his plot flooded to a depth of six inches the other day, so our position slightly up the hill clearly comes with drainage benefits, even if the wind does cut across it like a knife.
Anyhow, the ground was certainly workable enough for me to get down there a few times last week and dig over this year’s three-sisters patch. I started with a 60cm (or so) wide trench, taking the top-soil off to a depth of about a 30cm and extracting the few perennial weed roots that escaped last year’s thorough clearance. Then I heaped in a few inches of well-rotted manure, moved to the left, dug another trench – transferring the top-soil onto the manured section – and repeated until I’d finished and raked over the whole 3m x 3m (ish) section.
(I think that weird pinkish tinge is something to do with my old phone’s camera lens, not the soil…)
The result is a well-manured bed that will be used for three-sisters growing (companion planted corn, squash and beans – more on that another time) again next year. And it should be a year or two before it needs digging over again, with any luck.
Jo and I moved to our new home at the very end of July 2015. We’d already spent the previous eight or nine months planning and scheming to turn the back yard – an old garage-cum-shed, a patch of grass and a mini, Japanese-ish gravel area – into a quintessential English Cottage Garden. Or at least, our version of one.
The previous owners had a summer house at the back of the garden, which they took with them. My first job was to scrape back the gravel, lift the old, loose-laid flag base, dig out the masses of invading tree root from next door’s conifers, then mark out the site of our brand new, 10’x8′ greenhouse. Builders came in and re-laid the slabs as a base for the new structure, then I put down new weed membrane, re-distributed the gravel around the new base and round the back of the garage/shed, forming the utility area for our new compost bins and water butts.
Next, my good friend Steve and I spent a few pleasant mornings in late September putting the greenhouse together. The finished structure is superb and we only lost one pane of glass in the process, so we reckon we did pretty well between us. At which point, Jo and I downed tools for the winter. All the advice we’ve read on establishing a new garden says the best thing to do is to wait and observe, rather than rush right in.
That’s what we’ve done and as a result we’re steadily building up a picture of where the sunnier and shadier sections are, how much of the ground gets water-logged in heavy rain, and where next door’s apple tree drops its fruit, things like that. That sort of information will help to inform Jo’s decisions when it comes to placing our new fruit trees and perennial feature plants (Jo is very much the project leader on this one, I’ll mainly be on digging, lifting and tea-brewing.)
Here are a few shots of the ongoing work so far and the current state of the space. Not much to shout about just yet, but we hope it’s going to develop into something really special over the next few years.
My wife, Jo, and I took on Plot #59 at Langley Allotments in Prestwich in January 2014. It had been only minimally worked and by the last tenant or two and by the time we arrived had mostly gone back to grass and weed. You can see from these photos what we had to contend with (click the thumbnails for a larger version):
Our first year on the plot was one of manic weed clearance, with a bit of growing here and there as time and space allowed. We managed to grow a decent crop of staples – broad beans, potatoes, runner beans, courgettes, kale, garlic, leeks, cabbages, rhubarb, raspberries and blackcurrants – and were determined to push ahead in year two.
Of course we then decided to move house and ended up (due to all the usual palaver) doing so at the height of the growing season. This knocked our progress back a bit (it’s hard to get out and dig over your beds when you have an entire library’s worth of books to pack up, solicitors to liaise with, removal firms to book and all the rest of it), and the somewhat less than ideal weather did its best to hold us back as well.
But we persisted, and did as much as we could, including digging a truly epic spud patch (twelve three-metre rows of ’em) and clearing a tree stump or two in the process. We ended up with a handsome harvest of all sorts of good things: all of the last year’s staples, plus a few additions: sweetcorn, climbing beans, brussels sprouts, romanesco (it mostly bolted but was still very tasty as ‘yellow sprouting’ broccoli) parsnips, beetroot, redcurrants and salsify (although I have to confess, I haven’t dug any of the latter yet, so we’ll see what’s happened there after the first decent frost). Jo’s sunflowers were exceedingly lovely, and the decorative beds at the front of the plot produced a plethora of colourful blooms.
Here’s an assortment of pics from across the year (again, click the thumbnails…):
This pic was taken at the end of October. The plot wasn’t at its very greenest, with all the spuds harvested, and most of the surplus foliage cleared away, but if gives you a sense of the progress we’ve made since we took over:
Jo and I have big plans for year three. The next round of clearing and digging over is under way at the front of the plot, and we’re stocking up on seeds for a big push in Spring.
I’ll be keeping you updated, so please do feel free to follow me on Twitter @nftallotment for updates.