Field Allotments at Amerton
By Mrs FM
Herbs & Other
Issues And Going Green.
And Other Climbing Plants.
Alan J Hartley
A few years ago it was said
that with the climate change we might get wetter winters and I guess
they might be right as it has certainly been wet this last winter! So,
perhaps we, as gardeners, need to prepare for seemingly ever wetter
weather. I am not saying we should create Paddy fields and start growing
Rice, but there are a few steps that we can take to minimise problems
caused by the wet. Firstly it really is a case of the “Right plant for
the right place.” In other words for wet patches we are really going to
have to grow only plants that like wet conditions and not try to grow
what we want where we want. With vegetables and fruit that does limit
things considerably, but even so there are a few plants that don’t mind
getting wet. Plum trees for instance will thrive in damp conditions much
better than dry and Raspberries prefer moisture and a bit of shade. Root
vegetables would be a poor choice for a damp spot, but some of the Salad
vegetables along with Beans will be much happier. Secondly, clay soils
easily get water logged, so some efforts can be made to improve drainage
by breaking them up with fibrous compost, leaf mould and even composted
woodchip, or by adding horticultural grit, but the last might not be
approved of on an allotment. Very wet areas where water lies in pools
can only really be productive though if raised beds are installed.
This last winter our allotment had water lying on the paths and beds,
and even running down the site in miniature streams! However, this
didn’t stop me with my many raised beds and woodchip paths. Admittedly,
it looked as if the woodchip might start floating away some days, but on
the whole the paths and beds worked well allowing me to get onto my
plots whenever the rain stopped for a few hours. They permitted me to do
many of my regular winter tasks such as pruning and the tying in of my
many fruit trees and bushes. Even the soil in my beds was workable for
much of the time!
I think these ideas are slowly spreading around our site as more and
more people are using the woodchip that we get from our free source and
putting in raised beds everywhere. Different types of boarding from
railway sleepers to scaffolding boards and bought gravel boards are
being employed by our allotmenteers. Some are then filling their newly
created beds with spent compost from their greenhouses and garden tubs,
and some are using cheaply bought bags of new compost. Others are using
the compost dug out from our communal composting waste bins.
Some years ago, soon after we took over the newly built allotments, it
was decided to install a set of communal compost bins on a trial basis
to see what reaction they got, what the actual demand was and how they
would be used. For the first few years we used 4 bins made from wooden
pallets nailed together to form open fronted and open topped boxes. They
were lined with old, one ton, builder’s bags and a loose pallet was
wired on the front of each for easy removal and access to dig them out.
The compost bins were well used, although it was sometimes difficult to
find volunteers to maintain them and it was always hard work to manually
dig them out and turn them occasionally.
After a few years the timber pallets started to break up and the
committee decided to invest in bigger, more permanent bins. The local
farmer and landowner offered to make some for us which he did. There
were only 2 bins this time, but they were far, far bigger – maybe 10
feet across and nearly the same from front to back. Also they were
sunken by some 5, or 6 feet as well as being raised above ground level
by another couple of feet. The capacity of these bins is enormous with
quite a few tons of compost being emptied out of them every 6 months, or
so. When the farmer constructed the bins he built them to suit his
digger/tractor so that he could quickly and easily empty them for us.
All we have to do is tidy up afterwards and re-cover the turned out
piles with tarpaulins to stop the weeds from re-growing.
The bins have been working well for some time now, so the next idea is
to build a better storage area, for the resulting compost product, after
it has been dug out and is ready for use, for the loose woodchip that
comes on a small lorry and is tipped, and the bags of horse manure that
come from the local stables. At present all of these are put on the
driveway which makes them difficult to keep tidy and clear up properly
when the piles are gone. A concrete base for the storage area and sides
made from railway sleepers held in place by steel girders has been
proposed, but not built as yet. This type of structure should make
storage a lot easier to maintain and easier for people to access because
they will be shovelling off concrete instead of a stone driveway. We are
hoping that with a more professionally available product our
allotmenteers will realise the need to maintain quality and will not put
in so much of the rubbish that we have had in the past.
It has always been my adopted job to oversee the compost bins and from
time to time I remove bits of unsuitable material that I spot. Many
people assume that the heap in the bins is very loose and unsafe to walk
on so they invariably tip all of their rubbish at the front of the bins.
However, this is not true as it quickly packs down and I often clamber
on to the growing piles both to spread the waste evenly into the corners
that would otherwise never get filled and to remove offending bits of
netting, plastic and branches.
To be honest though, the problem has lessened over the years as people
have been told that the soil, that is periodically available, is not a
load of lovely, rich Top Soil that we have had delivered, but a pile of
old weeds dug out from our compost bins!
Anyway, back to growing on the Allotments and the month of April is the
time when many more vegetables can be planted out. Onions and Early
Potatoes should already be in, but now cabbages and Brassicas in
general, as well as Broad Beans can go in. Runner Beans will follow on
next month as we stop getting cold nights and these will be followed by
outdoor Tomatoes, Squashes, Courgettes and Ridge, or outdoor Cucumbers.
Outdoor Cucumbers are not often grown, because, although, many people
like cucumbers throughout the summer months with their salads, they
don’t realise that perfectly good cucumbers can be grown on their
allotments. They are a little bit shorter than the normal supermarket
type, prickly and in need of peeling, but otherwise indistinguishable.
As April closes and the month of May comes round some more unusual crops
can be planted, including Cape Gooseberries, Cucamelons, Yacon, Soya
Beans and Sweet Corn to name but a few.
About now I normally plant out my old Chrysanthemums stools that I have
over wintered, but those in my Cold Frame didn’t come through the winter
very well this time. I don’t really know why because it wasn’t a cold
winter, but on the other hand perhaps it was too hot for them to shut
down properly in their sunny Cold Frame. However, I had potted up many
small pieces that had broken off when the Stools had been dug up at the
end of Autumn and those have made lovely little plants in my greenhouse
this Spring that I was able to plant out at the end of March.
My allotment might have been very wet at times this winter, but at the
time of writing this article the long term forecast for the coming weeks
is said to be a prolonged dry spell. We shall see what comes!