Starting our “allotment”

Purple Sprouting BroccoliOK, don’t get too excited, we haven’t got to the top of the 15-year queue for allotments. What we are doing is starting to turn large amounts of turf into productive garden beds. In addition to the Aquaponics system we have in our polytunnel, we are going to have eight conventional allotment-style beds. Each will be 5’x20′ and we’re going to try the planting styles detailed in the excellent “How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Can Imagine“. This means we’re planting a lot closer together than the instructions on the packets, and we’re not planting in widely spaced rows.

According to the book, this should give us maximum yields with minimum weeding and we should be able to reach every plant in the 5-foot wide beds without walking on the beds at all. The downside? It’s all about the soil! So that means digging . . . lots of digging. And compost . . . lots of compost.

Luckily we seem to have really good, deep topsoil. From digging the holes for the sumps in our aquaponics system I know it goes down about three feet. Unluckily it has had turf on it for a long time and so it is incredibly solid – too compacted to consider planting into, and it’s causing real drainage problems. So, we dig, and dig, and dig. The book calls for double-digging which is hard work but at the end of it the difference is amazing. These big thick slices that we’re levering up break apart into a beautiful fine soil and with plenty of compost mixed through it is finally possible to think of this piece of ex-lawn as a possible vegetable garden.

The hardest bit is getting rid of the turf. Lifting and shifting it took far more time than doing the eventual digging so we’re going to have to work out a better way to do that. The result is a little underwhelming, but we’re happy with it:

Allotment bed

That’s half of one of the eight beds – it’s 10’x5′, fully double-dug with a couple of big bags of compost dug through for good measure. We’re now planting it up with over-wintering onions (red and white), garlic, and purple-sprouting broccoli. This is our first real go at growing our own food, so wish us luck! Hopefully the slugs haven’t eaten it all yet!

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