We were just packing up on the allotment yesterday when noticed this addition to the shed door. They may look very like grapes at this magnification but in fact they’re tiny (less than 1mm) eggs – I’ve no idea what sort of insect they belong to but they’re strikingly pretty and we’ll leave then there to see what emerges. A quick internet search suggests they could be lacewing or shield bug eggs, but most insects lay their eggs on their food source and so far as I’m aware the shed door is not the habitat of choice for any insect I can think of. If they are, in fact, grapes I shall put an ad in the Daily Mail and sell them on as the new wonder-food that everyone’s investing in. Pretty scruffy painting on the door too – I have to admit – let’s call it vernacular painting and pass rapidly on.
I have seen books and websites that suggest you can run an allotment in an hour a week. I’m sure you can, just as you can water an allotment in ten seconds with the aid of a second hand fire engine and a full lake of water, but that’s not really the point. There’s an old saying that the best fertiliser is the farmer’s boot. Such archaic folklore is obviously out of date in the age of farm machinery with GPS and onboard computers but that’s part of the problem. Swinging by your allotment for an hour a week or ploughing a hundred acre field without stepping outside the air conditioned cab misses out one vital part of managing your patch of dirt – pondering time.
Pondering is one of the most fruitful exercises in gardening. Standing stock still in the middle of the plot and looking at the lie of the land, the direction that the wind and the rain come from, the condition and even the smell of the soil, the particular weeds that like to grow there, the birds, the pests, the time the sun spends on the plot and the time it’s hidden behind the trees, the places where frost gathers, the habitual path that the badgers take (just try blocking it and you’ll see what I mean), the recollection of the seasons as they affect that particular spot and the way things are at this precise moment; what flourishes and what’s in trouble? Pondering is the equivalent of a platoon of Royal Engineers building a bridge between the present moment and the future.
So yesterday Madame had a flash of insight that managed to unite three key aims on the allotment. From the first moment I started to build the compost bins I was aware that we were taking out a very large bed of ‘full sunshine’ ground. Space is the most precious commodity we have when there are only 250 square metres to work with, and sometimes you have to make compromises. Maintaining an organic plot requires big inputs of compost and becoming as self-sufficient as possible in compost is a big money-saver. We also take in garden waste from our neighbours who would otherwise have to drive it to the municipal tip.
We also want to store as much water as possible because with climate extremes becoming almost commonplace we need a buffer against watering bans. Rainwater is, in any case, less damaging because it contains less chemicals like chlorine.
But the loss of twenty square metres of growing space is a big price to pay, which is why Madame’s idea is so brilliant. Yesterday we were pondering where we might put four ridge cucumber plants. They’re a bit space consuming because, like courgettes and squashes they like to wander. There are four compost bins in a row. One is used to store leaf mould – so we fill it heaped high with leaves in the autumn, and then we don’t touch it for a year while it gradually reduces to half the original volume. Next to that we store the compost, grit and sundries that we still have to buy. The third bin is for the final stage of our home composting and the last is the ‘live’ bin that’s regularly topped up, turned and mollycoddled.
Madame’s big idea was to plant out the cucumbers in bags of compost on top of the leaf mould. But two heads work better than one and in a flash we could see that by securing a removable floor above each of the bins, and then building a polycarbonate sloping roof over each of the bins and harvesting the rainwater falling on them, we could combine all three objectives :
- Making compost
- Harvesting water
- Increasing cold frame space
It’s three crop vertical gardening in a confined space.