In at the deep end!

by Melvin Cator

“So, what are you going to do when you retire?” Was a question I was asked many times (mainly by my wife). In an attempt to put an end to the questioning, I flippantly said “I’ll get an allotment”.


As time went on, I realised that this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. When I asked around, people suggested that the waiting list for allotments was so long, I would probably be dead before one became available.


Undeterred, I went on line and applied for a plot on Fairview Road site and to my amazement, within a couple of weeks, I was being shown around vacant plots on the site. There was a choice between a very overgrown 1/2 plot and a very neat and tidy 1/3 plot. Thinking that I didn’t want to overload myself with too much work (I was still working full time for another year after all), I selected the smaller, tidier plot.


Now here I am, one year later, with some great experiences of “growing my own”.


First question was “what should we grow?” My view was that I would only grow what we eat. What was the point in growing a load of globe artichokes when I had only ever tried one in my life and I didn’t particularly like them?


“You’ll need a book” I was told. As I am sure some of you will know, there are hundreds of allotment books available and for a novice, the choice was difficult. I eventually plumped for “Allotment month by month” by Alan Buckingham which turned out to be worth its weight in gold.


When I had got my head around things like crop rotation, soil warming and feeding, I devised a plan. I decided that year one was to be a learning exercise. If I got some crops out of the allotment during the first year, it would be a bonus. I borrowed a rotovator from a friend and turned the whole plot over.


Soil quality looked very good and there was a distinct lack of stones. I started planting at the end of October with some Winter Onions and some broad beans. I put some string in place where I had planted them just in case I forgot where they were!! I went back a week later to find all of the strings in disarray. Some had been cut and others had been pulled up and discarded over the allotment. I must admit that my suspicious side came in to play and I thought “Who on earth would do that to a new allotment holder?” I reported the alleged vandalism but I was told reassuringly that it was probably a fox that visits the site occasionally. Sorry for doubting any fellow allotment holders.


After a couple of weeks, onion shoots started to appear and just before Christmas, my first broad bean shoot popped its head out of the soil. Embarrassingly I have to admit that I took photographs of my first shoots.


I left the plot alone for most of the winter and, when I went back in mid-February, most of the onions were still alive and the broad beans all appeared to be doing well.


I paid a visit to the SGAA shop at the Lawrence Avenue allotment site where I bought parsnip, carrot, beetroot and runner bean seeds and bamboo poles for the runner bean supports. I was very pleased to learn of the £5 discount!!

“You’ll need a shed” I was told (by my wife) and in mid- March, having paid my £30 fee to SGAA, I put the shed up. “You can use it tostore your tools, somewhere to drink your flask of tea, eat your sandwich and somewhere to shelter from the rain”. So far I have stored my tools in it. None of the other suggestions have happened yet despite receiving the obligatory Gardener’s flask, diary, calendar and other gardener’s gift sets for Christmas.

Mid April and it was time for 2nd early potatoes that had been “chitting” in my garage for a few weeks. I started off the runner beans in the greenhouse at home and in mid May erected the bamboo pole structure and planted out the well-established plants.


Broad beans were starting to bear fruit. How proud was I when I took the first 3 broad beans home? Even though there were only 6 beans each, my wife and I thought they were very tasty.


By the end of May, the plot was looking on the up. Onions were plumping up, potatoes were heaped up, runner beans were growing up and the broad beans were fruiting up.

Over the next few weeks, the beetroot and carrots started to appear but still no sign of the parsnips!!


Then, the problem all gardeners face I guess, weeds. Why do weeds grow better than the plants you are trying to cultivate? A bit of digging and hoeing soon got rid of most of them.


I am now in a position where I am reaping the rewards of my labours. Broad beans finished some time ago. Black fly got them in the end. Potatoes, runner beans and beetroot are being picked on a regular basis. The carrots will soon be ready and there is still no sign of the parsnips. I think I will give up on them!!

What have I learnt over the last year and questions for next year? Winter onions don’t appear to do as well as summer ones. Pick the broad beans a little earlier. Grow sunflowers, everybody else seems to?? Don’t bother with parsnips unless somebody has some great tips on how to grow them. Is all of the material deposited near the gates a free for all or has somebody bought it? Where can I get some manure from? Why do people grow things and never harvest them. I have seen so much wasted produce.


For the princely sum of £12-77 per year or my 1/3 plot, minimal expenditure on seeds, bamboo canes and a few hours of planting, watering, weeding, etc. I have managed to get a freezer full of vegetables, met some very friendly people and am thoroughly enjoying it. I am even thinking of an additional plot if one becomes available. Back to rotovating, crop rotation, soil warming and feeding for next year. Oh and my wife is very proud of me!!