Starting an allotment – some tips! | Simply Marcia


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Starting an allotment – some tips!

Ok, so I’m not particularly known for being green-fingered or a natural gardener amongst my friends and family – which means I’m definitely not an expert horticulturist. But I do love food! I do love using fresh ingredients and creating new recipes, and I do come from a family of small-holders and grown-your-own’ers. So as far as I’m concerned that’s all the qualification I need!

I had an allotment a few years ago when my children were really little but to be honest, I didn’t really have a clue … I mean, I did actually grow stuff – but more by luck than proper planning – think too many courgettes, very scraggly, teeny-tiny carrots and, amazingly, an annual glut of berries! After a couple of year I sadly had to let it go – basically the combination of other commitments – work, children, logistics – and the fact that the allotment was a good 3 miles from my home at the time didn’t help…

Roll on a good 10 years: a new home in Cornwall, a new freelance working-from-home life and a close-to-home allotment means that 2018 is the year of the allotment for me. And in order to get it a bit more right than last time, I’ve been doing my homework and been plotting and planning and have come up with these ‘starting an allotment’ tips:

Do your research
Have a proper nose around your own allotment and the other allotments. What seems to grow well (obviously this will depend on the time of year)? More importantly, talk to and ask the locals – in my experience, other allotmenters are a friendly, helpful, super-knowledgeable bunch and will be the best source of local soil conditions, what grows well and what doesn’t.

Invest in a couple of allotment handbooks
I still have my allotment books from first time around and they’re still brilliant – full of useful advice and tips – great for complete beginners or more experienced gardeners. My go-to books are:

The Allotment Handbook by Caroline Foley
Grow Your Own Veg by Carol Klein

Both offer easy-to-understand advice on planning, weeding, sowing, planting out, the months/seasons and soil types as well as all you need to now about the likes and dislikes of individual plant families

Find online allotment bloggers to follow
For tips and topical, relevant allotment and growing advice, allotment bloggers are just brilliant – find some that you like. I find Twitter is the best source. I really enjoy the realistic and easy advice (and humour) from Richard Chivers’ Sharpen your Spades and Bohemian Raspberry.

As I have a large allotment plot, as well as growing fruit and vegetables, I also want to give a small patch to wild flower growing. Little Green Space is a wonderful Twitter account to follow for tips on green living and creating green spaces for nature and wildlife.

Get an allotment planner
This is essential for all your scribbles, plotting and planning. I have an A5 notebook. I jot planned as well as random, thoughts, ideas and drawings in it as well as sticking in snippets of advice or ideas I’ve found in the weekend papers or magazines – it’s a proper scrapbook i guess.

Grow what you like to eat
This time around, armed with local knowledge of the well-growing plants here, I’m going to start the allotment by focusing mostly on sowing seeds, planting seedlings and growing produce that we actually eat. I’m not going crazy as I don’t want to feel too overwhelmed – it’ll literally be an organic, rolling process. So for us, that means fruit, veg and herbs including:

– onions, garlic, leeks
– broccoli, kale, peas
– beetroot
– pumpkin, squash
– cucumber, courgette, lettuce
– berries
– rhubarb
– herbs: mint, rosemary, chives, thyme, sage

Although we eat plenty of them, this year I’m avoiding potatoes, most root veg e.g. carrots, and Mediterranean / greenhouse produce such as tomatoes and peppers. Partly because they’ve seemed so labour-intensive in the past, but haven’t grown too well, but also because we eat so much of them and actually, our local farming cooperative sells them at a ridiculously decent price.

Seeds
There are so many places to buy decent seeds or seedlings and plants now. One of my favourites is Dobies. They have loads of choice, a brilliant tips and advice-laden website and their prices are good.

Get equipped
You will need equipment to help you handle your allotment. Essentials include:
– decent gardening gloves
– wellies
– sturdy spade and fork
– hand trowel and hand fork
– trays and pots for seedlings
– rake
– secateurs
– watering can

What allotment tips or advice do you have?

Next time: Preparing an allotment


My 2017 round up – some of what I’ve learnt!

As 2017 draws to a close, I find myself making final Christmassy plans, catching up with family and friends, and pondering a little on what this last year as brought me. So I thought a little round up to remind myself of some of the positive things that have made 2017, for me:

Moving to Cornwall

The biggest decision made this year. My partner and I have five children between us: he has two older boys, I have three younger ones who live with us. Uprooting my three and moving us all 2 1/2 hours drive from Bath to south-east Cornwall might have seemed a little crazy but you know, sometimes, when the opportunity strikes, you have to grab it and just do it. There was a lot of soul-searching, head-scratching, umm-ing and ahh-ing of course – the biggest worry I had was how this move would affect my children. But kids are resilient; there have been tough times of course, but, they’ve started new schools and made new friends. They still see and stay with their dad once a fortnight in Bath so those ties are still strong – and thanks to social media, they now have the best of both worlds with friends both here in Cornwall and back in Bath.

What I’ve learnt: The move has highlighted the fact that I’m a hoarder- I had too much ‘stuff’. Thankfully, the move meant scaling back and giving back to charities. I’ve also learnt that I really, really like to be away from the crazy rat-race. And that this part of Cornwall is not that far from Bath (hooray!). The novelty of doing up a new (but very old) house wears off once the Cornish sun shines and the beach calls – it’s a tough call – beach or DIY? That kids are hard work no matter where you live. And that I really, really, really love living in Cornwall – but equally, being so close to Dartmoor (my spiritual home I think).

Freelancing

I wasn’t sure how the big move would affect my freelance marketing. All my strong, client links and networks were back in Bath and Bristol. This is where most of my freelance work came from until our move. Thankfully, proving true that location is (mostly!) irrelevant when it comes to working as a freelancer I’ve a) managed to keep hold of projects and clients I was working on back in Bath and b) I’ve built up some lovely, new contacts here in Cornwall and have new clients and exciting projects taking me in to 2018.

What I’ve learnt: Communication is key. Whether that’s keeping conversations running with existing clients or networking and meeting new potential ones. And that you can’t rush or force these things – I’m all for natural chemistry! Oh, and sometimes heading to the beach to clear the cobwebs away and work stuff out! Keeping my LinkedIn profile updated and fresh has helped too.

Health

I’m very lucky; I’m not someone who thankfully suffers from illness very often. However, this move has made me recognise that as I get older, I want to become stronger and do what I can to live a happy and healthy life for as long as possible – it must be the sea air! This year I’ve upped my exercise game. Not quite a runner, I would class myself as someone on the cusp of super-fast walking/jogging – is that a thing? Point is, come rain or shine, uphill and down dell, I’ve been out there – my heart rate has been seriously pumping and working hard this year, and as a result I’m more toned and without a shadow of a doubt, so much fitter. I’m also a fan of kayaking – it’s perfect for all the family, it brings you so much closer to nature, it’s great for your core muscles and it’s easy! It’s also been a year of ‘in with the veg’ and ‘out with the meat’. I’m not quite ready to go full vegetarian (pescatarian is more likely!) but we’ve certainly had far more meat-free days than carnivorous ones. If you fancy joining me, Meat Free Mondays have some brilliant advice and recipes.

What I’ve learnt:
I’m really, really not a naturally sporty kind of person and didn’t think I could move as fast as I can – but with support and encouragement (and gentle nagging from other half when all I really want to do is slouch on the sofa with a bar of galaxy and a good box set, rather than head out in the torrential rain and fast walk up that bloody hill again) – I’ve made massive progress . I’ve also discovered a genuine love of lentils and legumes – my meat free substitutes.

Environment

Coming from a family of small holders and grow-your-own’ers, nature and the environment is a massive part of my life. Living in this part of the world, close to both the glorious beaches and breathtaking moors has brought us even closer to nature. Being able to spend so much time this summer literally touring the Cornish coastline, swimming, rock pooling and kayaking has been wonderful. And which is why, watching the recent Blue Planet 2 series has had a massive impact on me. We’re a family of re-users and recycle’ers but had no idea the scale of the plastics pollution of our oceans. It’s such a huge and dreadful problem but there are loads of brilliant initiatives we can all be a part of such as Surfers Against Sewage and One Less Bottle. Also this year we acquired a new allotment which a) I love, b) don’t quite know where to start with, but c) am determined to fill with edible plants for us, a wildlife haven for insects and small creatures and a penned off space for our lovely rescue hens!

What I’ve learnt
Ok, this is blindingly obvious I know, but we really do only have one planet. One environment. If a species becomes extinct, that’s it – game over for that species. It’s surely our duty to look after all creatures and all environments on this amazing planet. More than anything, it’s left me feeling passionate about doing my bit. That means buying locally, massively reducing our plastic consumption in this family, joining petitions and lobby’s, joining in with local beach cleans. That also means looking after and nurturing our small patch of land to help preserve it and the insects and creatures that visit it for future generations.

Food (and more importantly, gin!)

I’ve always loved ‘growing my own’ and having grown up in the era of ‘The Good Life’ and with parents who ran a small holding, it can come as no surprise to learn that food is a genuine source of joy for me. From keeping bees and hens to growing window sill herbs or hours spent on my allotment, I’m still a massive fan of the GYO movement. Life though, has been pretty hectic since our move to Cornwall – so we’ve kid of cheated and our GYO produce has come in the guise of Tamar Valley Grow Local whose philosophy is ‘Grow, Share, Cook’- if you can’t grow your own then buy and support local businesses who do! We like think we’re also doing our bit for local gin distilleries here in Cornwall too! It’s my tipple of choice and thankfully we’re lucky that there are some brilliant independent distilleries here which we’re gradually working our way around …

What I’ve learnt
Beside the fact that gin is my thing (nothing new!), supporting local farmers, small holders and independent producers via local schemes such as Tamar Grow Local is the next best thing to growing your own. It’s also great for the local economy and the environment. My intention next year is to combine a bit of home growing with local produce purchasing … first things first though – I need to get my house (allotment!) in order …