We at BHOGG have been wondering how you’re all doing out there in lockdown. So, here BHOGG regular Saskia gives us a candid account of her experiences of taking on a brand new plot just before lockdown.
It was with great excitement that I took on a ‘new old’ half plot in January. I got a long stretch of bare soil with a totally overgrown pond and a polytunnel that had belonged to the same couple for 40 years. The woman told me that they had been the first ever to have a tunnel on that site and had to fight to be given permission 35 years ago. When I got into it, it was a dry mess, four overgown grapevines, five rosebushes and a fig tree plus soil that was more like sand. But even in January a tiny orange Nasturtium, my favourite flower since childhood, winked at me from inside the door and I knew I had found my new sanctuary.
Brishub and her non-biodegradable environment (Image courtesy of the artist)
As things stood, I was rather busy and neglected to buy manure, think about starting important sowings of broad beans, garlic and the like. I figured after Seedy Sunday I’d get properly started, then I thought I’d wait until mid March, well, we all know what happened next. I cried when I realised I could not even buy seed potatoes as the shops were shut. I had no soil either; my compost bins were not ready. I made my first stupid mistake, trying to grow seeds in sieved soil straight from the ground. That does not work, it went very claggy and they all died. Rummaging in my box of seeds I found a bag that read “swept up”. These were brassica and radish seeds that had been left on the table at Seedy Sunday when we cleared up and I had quickly bagged them. In a corner of my greenhouse at home I found half a bag of magic soil (the one Mouse orders for members of BHOGG only) left over from last year and I dumped this into my new polytunnel along with the swept up seeds. WOW! Within a few days I had a square metre of greens, mainly radish leaves and kale – masses of happy kale. In between I also had 3 varieties of IKEA salad leaves from ages ago and a Morton’s very secret mix that seemed to be mainly chickweed – very tasty.
Once I had pruned everything hard and dug around the tunnel a bit, there was ample space to grow more, even some ancient strawberries had survived and the roses soon started to bloom. I put in an old packet of golden beetroot too close together but they all germinated. I found the leaves are absolutely delicious. When in May it was warm enough to transplant some, I did so, leaving the long leaves on, which made them very weak. So, I planted another lot but took the leaves off to eat – much better. I then planted red beetroot seedlings, and only once they were all in did I read the label. It said Mangold, which is German for chard. Oh dear.
Half of the plot and the tunnel are now lovely, the tunnel has a tropical feel to it. The big tree, vines and roses create almost contant dribbly rain! The other half of the plot is still a bit of a mess, but has lots of slowworms in it, which is my excuse for not strimming it all down. And the potato problem? Turned out that the last people to work the plot had not harvested theirs very well, so I have potatoes – 2 big beds full of them – lovingly interplanted with even more nasturtiums – did I mention they are also rampant in the tunnel? They are everywhere, I could not be happier, also a sweet neighbour sold me a bag of her really good horse manure which I have been distributing judiciously where most needed.
The plot is long and thin as are the two on either side of me. Those are worked on by women from other countries, just like me, and all our names begin with Sa. It makes physical distancing quite tricky, especially as we are all chatty. I can only water when they are not near as we all share the same tap, but we manage to stay kind and calm. I do miss proper allotment community chatting; we only say hello and a few words and then I duck away to wherever they are currently not working. There is a sign on the gate that says “No chatting! No sharing of tools! Don’t wash your hands in the water trough”. I am probably a lot more worried than the other two as they keep asking whether I want to use their hose or peering inside my polytunnel to see what I am growing. Everyone asks whether the fig tree is still there, I think I would have been lynched if I had decided to get rid of it.
I can’t wait to be able to share out the harvest. It’ll be yellow courgettes first, there are two plants in the tunnel, already looking quite promising with horse manure at their roots. Brace yourself, community fridge, it won’t be long now. The third cucurbit is one of Kate’s Tromboccini, I hope, and we all know how much food you get from one of those.
I could ramble on, but I think this is enough for now. The advantage of the lockdown is that in this amazing weather, I can work every afternoon as soon as the heat becomes bearable. The advantage of the dry soil is that the slugs are not swarming. The foxes on the other hand bring me presents all the time. A doll (in the picture from when I dug up masses of rubbish), a full nappy, today a long fresh piece of backbone, perhaps from a lamb? Lucky me, I have a green place to be.