To celebrate National Allotment Week 2011, I’ve decided to profile some of my favourite allotment holders. Today, Master Composter Tracy Bose, from Suffolk, tells us all about her plot. Tracy blogs at Life and Times of Library Hen.
Where is your allotment and how long have you rented it?
I’m working two plots as of this year – they’re next to each other on the London Road allotments in central Ipswich. I got Plot 258 about 5 years ago and 259 in the spring of this year.
I only wanted half a plot originally, but the site was in such poor condition, and in danger of being claimed as building land, so they were desperate for new people and I came away talked into a full one. The second plot will be shared with some of my neighbours.
What is your favourite thing about having an allotment?
Apart from the fact that it’s a ‘leaving the world behind’ sanctuary, just having ground to experiment with is an absolute luxury. It means being able to try new things without having to agonise too much about space, or appearance.
I’m trying to clear part of the new plot by doing the ‘lasagna’ approach – covering the grass and weeds with layers of cardboard and manure. In theory, the end result by next year should be gorgeous rich soil, weed-free and with much better structure than if I’d dug out the top layer of couch grass, but boy, it’s not pretty!
What is your least favourite thing about having an allotment?
Couch grass and bindweed. Both the plots were thick with couch grass and I’ve spent hours removing it and then going back and removing it all over again. Then as soon as there’s a space, the dreaded bindweed comes shooting through!
What is the best veg growing tip you’ve picked up and where did it come from?
Gosh, I’ve picked up so many brilliant tips from all over the place. I find the gang that uses the #allotment tag on Twitter usually knows the answer for any random questions that crop up.
The best tip I’ve used is to make room for a comfrey bed and to invest in some Bocking 14 as it doesn’t self-seed all over the plot. I’ve used chopped up comfrey under some potato planting this year and those spuds are doing by far the best.
Haven’t made comfrey tea yet though, which will be the next trick.
What is your favourite fruit or veg to grow on the allotment?
Ooh, an easy one. I love the autumn raspberries, I’ve got Polka and they crop beautifully. Touchwood they’ve been easy to look after too.
Got a tasty allotment recipe to share?
Take one hot day, work very hard for an hour or so, then pick some Polka raspberries and shove them in your mouth. Unbelievably good.
Or take some leftover boiled new potatoes, cut into small chunks, fry in some good olive oil until crispy, rip up some sorrel leaves and mix in, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.
What one item or tool could you not do without on the plot?
Can I assume this is a bit like Desert Island Discs and that I automatically get a garden fork? Other than that a wheelbarrow – there always seems to be one bit of the plot which needs to be moved to another bit.
What was your biggest or most embarrassing allotment hiccup?
Nothing too much to admit to yet with these allotments, but I did have a go about 20 years ago with sharing a lottie on a very pristine site with my next-door neighbour, who was a local councilor. We were worse than hopeless and his next-door neighbour, who was the parish council clerk, received complaints and ended up serving us with an eviction notice. Oops.
If you had one piece of advice for an allotment beginner, what would it be?
Accept that unless you have endless time and are very, very strong you won’t convert a wild plot to a pristine vegetable garden in one year (hah). So choose a patch, clear it well and keep checking for and removing persistent stuff like couch grass and bindweed.
Not leaving soil bare for too long is important, so maybe experiment with green manures if you’re not sure what crop to put in next.