Field Kitchen at the Nuthurst Community Allotment

Sal White, Cooks Farm, November 2020

We have big plans. Having made the first step towards creating a functioning and fruitful allotment (pulling out all the weeds from the greenhouse if you must know….well, we’ve got to start somewhere), we are now looking forward to the seventy-fourth step (falling somewhere after recruiting a bunch of enthusiastic allotmenteers, planting a load of seed and harvesting the bountiful produce from our raised beds) of setting up a field kitchen. Literally, a kitchen in the field. Or perhaps a kitchen in the paved bit in the middle of the greenhouse. We should probably call it the Paved Kitchen. Hmm, I quite like that. 

So anyway, the Paved Kitchen idea comes from the fact that we love cooking and eating. We also know that we will have lots of produce that we will have put a lot of effort into growing and therefore won’t be even the slightest bit interested in letting even one tiny carrot go to waste. 

The Kitchen will work alongside the veg boxes that the allotmenteers will take home in exchange for their enthusiastic veg tending. It’ll be a way to raise funds to plough back into the allotment and to generally raise awareness of what the earth can produce, food miles, bio-diversity, insect-diversity, seasonality, healthy soil and deliciousness of organic food type stuff. 

The Paved Kitchen will also be a great way to get the children from Nuthurst’s St Andrew’s primary school even more involved in the allotment and further their education in how to feed themselves with real food in a tasty way. 

Anywho, we had better get on with step two and three (building a rabbit/deer proof fence around the allotment and tilling the earth using a tractor contraption) whilst planning the Paved Kitchen menu. 

Who’s in?

The Nuthurst Community Allotment on the old Architectural Plants site opposite the church

Angus White, Cooks Farm, November 2020

What needs doing first?

We have about 1000 sq metres available outside and about 300 sq metres available under unheated glass. There could be more of both but this sounds enough to start.

To get it ready for growing fruit and veg we need to make it deer and rabbit proof. This could cost more than a pound. Well actually, it’d cost quite a lot more than a pound but it’s undoubtedly the most important and the most expensive part of the enterprise as hungry deer and bunnies are plentiful in Nuthurst.

Needless to say, emotional blackmail will be turned up to screaming pitch in attempting to persuade various local fencers to do their civic duty and do it for nothing. However, we must brace ourselves to face disappointment in this area. Maybe they’ll do it for abitlessthantheynormallywould or we can raise money by subscription and pay them. Anyway, not to worry. It will be done because it must be done. Somehow or other.

The greenhouse was our old propagation area and the ground is covered in 2 ft of crushed sandstone. To remove this would expose the original sloping soil and the general consensus is NOT to do that as it would be a fantastic amount of work to little effect. If we acquire some nice topsoil and some nice spent mushroom compost, we can make raised beds on the existing surface that’s level and well drained. We have the use of a small tractor with a front-end loader for getting the stuff in the greenhouse. We then need workers to hand rake the soil/compost into useable piles or ‘raised beds’ as we like to call them. We could then do exactly the same outside. 

Please note the use of the words ‘acquire’ and ‘workers’ in the previous paragraph. Words which are thick with innuendo and slightly sinister intent. i.e. it might appear that we’re looking for something for nothing.

Nothing? Nothing? Certainly not. The reward is getting involved with a worthwhile community adventure. A way to make friends, enjoy yourself and enjoy your very own home-grown fruit and veg.

Nuthurst Community Allotment Notes

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: nuthurstallotment@gmail.com to let us know if they want to get involved.