Our allotment is located at Woodlands Farm Trust on Shooters Hill. It is a working city farm covering 89 acres and is run predominately by volunteers. They have a farm shop, a picnic area and a very active Education Centre. They organise various events and seasonal activities throughout the year which includes – activities for schools and the community; conducted tours; barn dances; bird watching; sheep shearing. There is also a great cafe which is now managed by Castlewood Tea Room ( http://www.castlewoodtearoom.co.uk/woodlandsfarm ) where you can have coffee, lunch, ice cream and a wonderful selection of home made cakes. The farm welcome new volunteers, so if you have some spare time on your hands please do not hesitate to contact them. The farm is open to visitors Tuesday-Sunday, and on Bank holiday Mondays and is a fantastic day out for children and adults alike. The farm yard is accessible for buggy and wheel chair users, but be warned it can be a bit bumpy and muddy in places. http://www.thewoodlandsfarmtrust.org/
I love going to the allotment early in the morning before the volunteer farmhands arrive and when there is no one else around. When I enter the farmyard I first greet Bob, the Shetland pony, who is usually standing at the meadow gate waiting for a bit of attention. He is so endearing and I always give him an affectionate nuzzle and attempt to ward off the flies that are settling on his head. He looks at me in expectation waiting as though waiting for me to slip him an apple or a carrot, but we are not allowed to feed the farm animals.
I then move on past the ducks.
I have problem with them because they seem to have stopped laying eggs for the farm-shop. John loves fresh duck eggs and I let them know that I am not happy with them in no uncertain terms. My next steps take me to the herb garden where I revive my senses by plucking one of the aromatic leaves and savouring the smell of sweet basil or thyme.
At the same time, I cannot help but listen to the sound of the crowing cockerel in the very large chicken coop. Finally, I stop and have a one-sided conversation with the 5 week old Gloucester Spot piglets who are foraging for food while their mother Rosie keeps herself cool by wallowing in a mud hole.
The final path by the pig enclosure leads to our allotment which was originally meadow land. Depending on what the weather is like, I may first sit on the bench in order to don my wellies before making my way along the path as it is sometimes very muddy.
At home we have a very small garden which, in the summer, is an extension to our flat.
But this is the first time we have had an allotment or grown vegetables, so this year has been a time of trial and error. The initial setting up of the allotment was hard work, but very enjoyable and so worth it.
We started off by making 4 large raised beds out of re-cycled patio decking. I purposely asked John to make them quite high to save me having to bend too much. Once erected they were referred to by some of my friends on social media as the coffins. The soil on the plot was very unsuitable for sowing seeds as it is very heavy clay and very hard to work with. So we decided to wait for fresh soil to be delivered and supplemented it with compost from the farm. As we were novices we purposely started off on a small scale so that could learn from our mistakes. But we have every intention of expanding next year and making more raised beds.
We first made a planting plan for each of the boxes and stuck to it. But since then we have realised we made some mistakes. I hadn’t realised that courgette plants have very large leaves, which tend to shade the lettuces and beetroots, but we all learn by our mistakes. Initially slugs and snails were a problem, but a layer of broken egg shells around each of the young plants seems to have detered them.
So this year we have various tomato plants, peas, strawberries, runner beans, garlic, sweet corn, beetroot, courgettes, lettuce, sweet peppers, and potatoes in a large tub. I am a firm believer in companion planting to deter pests, so we have nasturtiums and French marigolds planted amongst the vegetables in each of the beds.
Our first peas which are so sweet
I make a lot of jams and preserves so we plan to plant a couple of dwarf fruit trees in the late autumn, which will come via the farm’s stock of grafted fruit trees
Many of the vegetables bought in shops and supermarkets are not grown in a sustainable manner. Conventional methods use harmful pesticides and fertiliser and have artificial additives to make them look fresher and last longer. When I took my horticultural course at the Greenwich Skills Centre (further up Shooters Hill from Woodlands Farm http://hadlow.ac.uk/courses/horticultural-skills-centre/ ) we visited an orchard in Kent. In their cold store they had Bramley apples waiting to go to the supermarket. They had been sitting in boxes on the shelves for eight months and had been pumped with methylcyclopene to stops them ripening too quickly.
Personally, I would rather have fruit and veg that I have grown myself and know that it is actually fresh and free of additives. In addition, shop bought produce comes with huge amounts of packaging that has a harmful effect on the environment.
The allotment has opened a whole new experience and social way of life for us. You can’t beat the thrill of seeing your first seeds develop into fully grown vegetables and then harvesting your own crops, straight from the soil to the plate. In addition, gardening is very therapeutic and can create a feeling of well being and stimulate physical health. The great outdoors certainly has a lot to offer.
As a postscript, I am currently housebound and unable to walk. This is due to problems with my back and and a bad attack of sciatica. But I am determined to fight this and hopefully will be back to see Bob the Shetland pony and my allotment very soon.