Idun Project Southeast London – Lessons and Results from First Year.

by Hengest OR

I have not posted about my allotment since Jim C wrote a report about it way back in August 2010 so I thought I would share some of what I have learned in that time. Firstly though I just want to say that to answer many of the queries from those overseas about what exactly an allotment is, I will be posting an article soon devoted to just that subject.

The most important thing that I learned in the first year of having an allotment is that it is hard work, very hard work, with lots of potential for disappointment. But also it can be very rewarding and the joy of eating food that you have grown yourself, free from harmful chemicals and pesticides can’t be overstated.

As reported back in 2010, the first thing I did was to invite OR comrades to join me for a day of good honest labour in return for a day spent with good folk and being fed and watered. The report by Jim C covers the events and achievements of that day, however it was not long after all of that hard work that the dreaded couch grass began to rear it’s ugly head and a few weeks later areas which had been brown soil were now lush green couch grass. Couch grass is a very invasive weed with a dense root structure and one small piece left in the ground will grow into a new plant and multiply. A big lesson learned and all subsequent digging included seek and destroy missions for couch grass roots.

As Winter closed in I managed to get some over-wintering onions in the ground and then just did what I could as the weather would allow. One thing I managed to do was to get some pallets with which I made some composts bins.

As the snow melted away and signs of Spring began to appear I managed to get approximately half of the plot cleared, or at least cleared enough to get some planting done. I guess I would not be alone amongst new allotment plot holders in wanting to grow EVERYTHING in the first year and also in growing too much of EVERYTHING in the first year. When I say too much, I mean too much at once leading to a glut of certain vegetables at one part of the year with none of those vegetables later in the year. Another lesson learned and particularly with regards to beetroot and carrots. This year I will be trying to sow at fortnightly intervals throughout the growing season of many vegetables.

So what did I grow in this first year? Well I grew various varieties of leeks, onions, garlic, lettuce, peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, corn, squash, Swiss chard, radishes, herbs, broccoli, parsnips, carrots, beetroot, strawberries and lots more which never made it past seedling stage or which died because I never managed to get them from pot to soil.

I planted my potatoes in early March and they came up beautifully. However a cold wind blowing across the allotment one night turned all of to leaves and stems brown and they looked totally dead. I was about to dig them all all up in despair when one of the elderly plot holders stopped me and advised that I should just leave them. He assured me that they would regrow and that there was still plenty of time for decent sized potatoes to form. He was right and I am glad I took his advice. Some of the older plot holders really are a mine of great knowledge and those of us who still have respect for our elders can learn a lot. Another lesson learned.

In June I was summoned to do jury service for two weeks which meant that I struggled to get to the allotment to keep things watered and to keep on top of the weeding. However due to a case I was selected to sit on, 2 weeks became six weeks and when I finally managed to get to the allotment the sight that greeted me was enough to make me wonder if it was all worth it. The weeds had well and truly taken over and areas where I had spent painstaking hours digging and removing all sign of weeds were once again covered. Vegetables had gone to seed due to the lack of watering and others had been eaten by hungry insects. I could easily have walked away at that point. However it was finding things still quietly growing such as squash and parsnips that made me want to persevere and I just picked myself up and carried on.

In the end my harvests were a mixed bag, some doing well (potatoes, beetroot, tomatoes) whilst others were terrible (leeks, cabbages, corn) but I see the whole of my first year on the allotment as a very important learning experience that will stand me in good stead for coming years.

I look forward to reporting on my activities this year and I hope that I can encourage others to take up growing their own vegetables. In reality I have done and learned so much more than I have written here and look forward to putting the experience to good use.

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