Jonathan van der Borgh, Bulls Farm, October 2020
We have a wonderful opportunity to create a parish community allotment on part of the site of the old Architectural Plants Nursery at Cooks Farm. The area for the allotment, which is in the north-west corner of the Nursery site next to the car park, includes a couple of glasshouses and about a quarter of an acre of outdoor allotment ground for starters.
We could start with the smaller of the two glasshouses and grow salad crops and some fruits and flowers and seedlings for planting out. The taller, central atrium is where the field kitchen will be set up.
The outdoor allotment ground was used as a standing out area for nursery container plants, so it has become compacted and very hard. Probably the best way to get this into the right condition for creating allotment beds will be to plough or disc it with a small tractor to break up the pan, and plant a crop of potatoes.
After planting the potatoes, a thick top-dressing of well-rotted farmyard manure and/or compost can be applied which will be incorporated into the topsoil during the growing season. After the potatoes are harvested we can design the layout of the raised beds and make a crop plan for the future. The outside allotment area will have to be fenced against deer and rabbits, and this can be done before or after the potatoes are planted.
We can form permanent, slightly raised beds in the allotment, narrow enough to be able to reach the centre of each bed from permanent paths in between the beds. We should try to adopt a no-dig method of cultivation (see the link to Charles Dowding’s website), using compost and mulch to convert the clay soil into friable seedbeds, where earthworms can thrive. No artificial fertiliser, insecticides or weedkillers for us. Organic is the best way.
We’ll try to make as much compost as possible from recyclable green material, plus farmyard manure and/or mushroom compost. We could build a compost mixer from an old drum mounted on a frame, with a winding handle, to produce a fine product suitable for growing seeds as well as for the allotment beds. Soil and growing medium are important parts of the project.
Water is another vital ingredient. It’s great to have a mains supply but we should also collect and conserve as much rainwater as possible by filling water butts, old tanks, and drums. Watering vegetable plants is a dark art and there are guidelines for using it sparingly and correctly. We could also consider using trickle and/or pulse irrigation, especially in the glasshouse, using power from a motor car battery recharged by a photo-voltaic cell.
We can decide on a crop plan to ensure that we grow as wide a variety of vegetables as is sensible and not too many of any particular one. Organic seeds are available from Garden Organic (see link) which has a comprehensive catalogue. After a while we could save open-pollinated seed and share and swap seeds with local gardeners. Recommended sowing and planting dates are available from Garden Organic. Following Monty Don on Gardener’s World (see link) is always useful. It’s important to have as few rules and preconceptions as possible and to watch and learn and experiment together.
We’ll share out the produce when it’s ready and make it up into veg boxes. Any surplus can be delivered to local restaurants or to the foodbank or made into soup to be frozen and consumed in the winter – no waste! This part of the project will develop over time and will demonstrate the community spirit of the enterprise.
The headteacher and staff of St Andrew’s School want to be involved and the children will take part through an after-school gardening club, with guidance from teachers, parents, and grandparents. It will be good to have as much family involvement as possible.
We now need to form a team of committed people to organise and run the community allotment and to gauge how much support there is for the scheme in the parish.
We’ll put a notice in Link magazine and a link (sorry!) on its website to this one, asking for people to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know if they want to get involved.