Even with the eyes of a proud parent I’d never claim that our allotment in winter is ‘handsome’ – as the Cornish might say. I think, perhaps, ‘showing potential’ is a better description. The months between November and April – and that’s half a year, can be a stark reminder that we have no control over the weather and our aspirations to clear ground and to build raised beds run into the hard reality of sodden soil and rain from the south west.
But yesterday the rain stopped and the clouds cleared for just long enough for us to go and do some work. When we took on the first plot in May, three years ago, it was a weed infested field and our whole priority was focused on clearing, sowing and planting to make the most of our late start. It was a good year for crops, the ground having laid fallow for as many as three years. But as we’ve come to understand the soil better, we’ve realized that ‘though it’s very fertile – it’s also very fragile. It’s an alluvial loam with a clay content high enough to ball-up when it’s wet. There’s about 12″-18″ of topsoil overlaying an impermeable clay layer which led to serious waterlogging last year. Our strategy has been to pile on as much organic material as we can in order to improve the soil structure. The decision to move to raised beds was pretty much forced on us by the soil conditions and so, three years on, we’re revisiting the design of the first plot to incorporate the lessons we’ve learned and the plots have piles of boards and pegs stacked here and there, ready to sieze any opportunity to do some infrastructure work. The most urgent need is to get at least one 12’ X 4’2″ bed ready to plant out the overwintering broad beans which are doing well in the tiny unheated greenhouse.
The ground is already so wet that it would be foolish to walk on it, so we’ve concentrated on building a deep surround which will contain the mulch on the grape vine next to a path. Since we have a free supply of leaves most of the allotmenteers on the site use leaves.
So a couple of hours of damp work saw the surround all but complete, but more than that, it was lovely to be out in the fresh air after an enforced week inside.