Review Of Our Allotment Year 2017

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Here’s a quick video review of our allotment year, and in summary it’s been fantastic, although it’s had it’s difficult moments.

The allotments have proven to be incredibly life enriching, allowing us to work outdoors, be part of a lovely community and eat wonderful – near – organic food. In 2018 we expect to be 95% self-sufficient in veg and maybe 60% in fruit, although we’re not religious about it, we still eat the best seasonal fruits that the world has to offer and cucumbers and courgettes in winter.

Looked at in terms of numbers we’ve harvested 1500, 2 litre, containers of veg in total, with a very conservative value of about £3000 and we’ve easily covered our costs, with enough left over to fund all of our 2018 costs. This year (2018) I’m expecting to harvest £4000 in value, all of it profit.

We’ve had a surplus from March until late November, in 2018 we’re hoping to have a surplus throughout the whole year. Everything was grown without inorganic fertilisers, but with just a whif of organic pesticide on the broad beans and globe artichokes. Our large surplus allows us to be self sufficient, while also keeping our friends and family well fed. We do trade veg for back yard eggs, tomatoes, grapes and weekly home made cakes. Most of the time though we give our surplus away and it’s a joy to do it.

It’s not all been smooth sailing though. The main challenge started when I tore a stomach muscle on years years day, basically preventing me from doing any heavy work for six months and even bending down for a few months was severely limited. We also lost half of our salad crop to catepillars in August, Saw Fly stripped the gooseberries bare and about a quarter of the potatoes got scab.

We seriously expanded our growing space this year. In March my wife Debbie got an allotment and in April my second daughter Jennie got her’s. I soldiered through the injury to help turn these plots around and Jennie’s was completed in May and Debbie’s in June. This made for a late start on both plots and resulted in me neglecting mine, but it all turned out alright in the end.

As a newbie allotmenteer (I got my plot in spring 2016) I’ve made a huge number of mistakes, but the biggest ones are mainly due to timing and successions. I’ve done better this year but we still ran out of peas, had far too many beans and no where near enough winter crops to cover the ground.

We discovered a few things that will stay with us: red things get less pests, New Zealand spinach is wonderful and much better than spinach in summer, oca makes a nice crunchy addition to winter salads, potatoes don’t like mushroom compost, and too much nitrogen isn’t good for carrots and sweet potatoes.

On the topic of ‘red things’ we will grow mostly red lettuces (slugs don’t like them), lots more red kalletes (white fly and catepillars don’t like them), we will also be trying red sprouts. We’ve also noticed that red salanova stands really well in winter, much better than it’s green cousin. Finally guardsman spring onions seem to work best for me as they stand tall, even on our windy site, making them much easier to harvest.

The cold-frames have been invaluable. They help extend the growing season for leafy greens through winter, but their real benefit comes in late winter/early spring when they let us get a huge jump start, allowing us to reach surplus by March.

Managing all three plots as one has worked well. On Jennie’s plot we grow: apples, potatoes, alliums, squash, brassicas and beans. On my plot we grow mainly leafy greens, beets, sweet potatoes, peas, carrots, radish and berries. On Debbie’s plot we focus on fruit, sweet corn and a bit of everything else in the ornamental beds.

If you are new to my allotment videos you might find a bit of context useful. We have three allotments in my family, mine (Steve), my wife’s (Debbie) and one of our daughter’s (Jennie). We also have a small kitchen garden at home. They are all managed in an integrated fashion, so don’t expect to see the usual mix of veg on each plot.

On Jennie’s plot for example we focus on potatoes, squash, alliums and brassicas. This video provides an overview I do a monthly tour of each allotment, roughly one a week, you can find the tours here

Our approach to allotment life is to: grow as much as we possibly can, to be self sufficient in veg all year round and in fruit in summer, to give away our huge surplus to friends and family, and to have as much fun as possible.

My wife and I spend about 4 hours a day, 4 days a week on the plots (on average) and we keep nudging that down as we eliminate non-productive work: like grass cutting, weeding and watering as much as practical. We are both newbie gardeners, only starting the allotments in 2016.

I’m a bit obsessive about the nutrient density of the veg that we grow and making the plots easy to work because it’s through this allotment lifestyle and food that I’ve overcome a debilitating auto-immune disease. I’m always aware though that it might not last so I make sure that I don’t work too hard, eat the most organic fruit and veg I can and design the plots so that I can still work them if I flare up again.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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