Friday, March 09, 2012

All from nothing...

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden. 

Several weeks ago, I bought a couple of fruit bushes - the likes of gooseberry, blackcurrant, raspberry, etc., with the intention of planting them in hedgerows close to my home. We have little space to spare in our back garden, and I also nurtured the idea that the bushes growing semi-wild could be enjoyed by more than just my family.

With this reasoning in mind, I approached a farm owner whose land I shoot on, and asked permission to plant the fruit bushes on the farm. To my surprise, I not only received permission to plant out the fruit bushes - I was also offered the use of some disused piece of land on which to grow vegetables.

My wife (Clare) and I have long wanted a small parcel of land to grow veg - often we would pass by an unused piece of ground and lament the fact that we couldn't put it to better use. However, our county council don't provide local allotments at a subsidised price, and we felt that  the allotments that are available locally left a lot to be desired. Until now, we had to make do the best we could, growing veg in pots in our back garden.

With this generous offer, however, we had a golden opportunity to kick things up a gear, and really produce good veg on a scale large enough to provide for our family. Obviously the farmer was also more than welcome to what we grew!

First though, there was a fair amount of work to be done before the land would be capable of producing veg. I've read about "permaculture" allotments, where veg are grown in a seemingly random manner, but manage to form symbiotic relationships and thrive. Much as I admire this way of growing, it's not something that we have the skill set to do. No, this would be an an allotment in a more tradition sense.

Before I began, the land was overgrown and had been used as something of a dumping ground, acting as a cemetery to old Christmas trees, and more...

Day 1:

Here's a picture of it before I started clearing it up:

I began clearing all the rubbish off the site. This included old Christmas trees, piping, flower pots, and something I found overgrown with grass and moss:

At first I figured that I'd be able to save the glass in the windows to make some sort of glass box for germinating seeds. The idea lasted as long as it took to lift the window frame - whereupon the glass just disintegrated into pieces. It's most likely been there years. On the plus side, the ground underneath it was already cleared of grass and weeds, making my work a small bit easier!

Clearing the site (from here on in, I'll refer to it as the "allotment" or "plot") took a few hours. After all rubbish had been removed, the allotment looked a tiny bit better. (A tiny bit!):

At this point, Clare came to visit, bringing along our kids. Our daughter is only a few months old, so stayed in the buggy, but our son enjoyed himself exploring the allotment:

Spending time with my family provided me with a much needed break, and was great craic. The little fella seemed to enjoy himself, and I'm looking forward to the day he can potter about the allotment as we work on it.

By this stage, the evening was drawing to a close, and I decided to turn a little of the sod before calling it a night. By the end of the evening, I feel that I had made definite progress:

Day 2:

The following morning, I hired out a strimmer, and started cutting through all that overgrown grass. This proved harder than I thought - some of the grass was so old as to have grown wood like consistancy! Nevertheless, I kept at it. Most of the grass was easier to cut through. When I was finished, the allotment looked far more manageable:

That phase complete, I began raking up all the cuttings. There was quite a bit of it, more than I had anticipated. I piled it at the bottom of the allotment. At this point, I'm not sure whether I'll leave it there to compost down, or remove it from the area.

Raking the allotment allowed me to see bits of grass that I had missed the first time strimming. At this point, the allotment looked thus:

I bit the bullet, and strimmed the entire allotment a second time. After all, I reasoned, I had hired the strimmer for the entire day, I may as well make good use of it! After the second strimming, the site was looking somewhat cleaner:

(Fair enough, I realise that most won't see the difference between the two above photos, but I sure as hell did!). My next big task was the main event, so to speak - "turning the sod" on the entire allotment. This basically entails cutting off the top layer of ground, taking the last of the grass and most of the roots with it.

Before that, the was a young ash tree to remove from the site. I really wanted to save the tree if possible, but when I dug around it, I realised that its roots system was just to extensive for me to dig out. So I cut it down, and after some back-straining work, managed to pull the worst of the tree roots from the ground. Here's a photo of the allotment, minus the offending tree:

I couldn't procrastinate any longer - the sod needed to be turned. Gritting my teeth, I began. Surprisingly, while it was laborious work, it wasn't as difficult as I had imagined it would be. I took several watering breaks to keep myself hydrated and kept at it. Eventually, even though I wanted to continue, I had to drop the strimmer back to the shop. And so I called it a night, having turned a decent amount of sod.

I'm only two days in, but I'm aching from the work I'm doing. Still, I'm focused on the overall goal of having the allotment up and running, and it's good to see visible results of a days work.

Will post with my progress tomorrow.


mum said...

Loved reading about allotment Patrick,you did great work fair play.See Thomas enjoyed himself also.x

sarah gill said...

Great job so far Paddy. I'm so happy that you've been able to get further down the road to self-sufficiency. And that this blog is starting to see some action!!