Inside our new shed

Little shelves and tool racks

Back in June, when my 87-year-old Dad got his allotment, we were already at the fag end of the growing season.

By the time letters about cutting down trees had been sent and answered; by the time the shed was up and customised with little shelves and toolracks, it was even later.

Neighbouring newbie allotmenteers decided it was too late, and restricted themselves to clearance.

Others went at it like crazy and got their plots geometrically planted up inside a few weeks.

Our approach fell somewhere in between, not that we’d planned that. Some might say it was characterised by indecision and disorganization.  I prefer the word ‘organic’.

Newbie allotment holders clear their plot completely

Clearance

I’d feared from the outset that progress would be hampered by Dad’s and my ‘artistic differences’. We did agree on one thing, though: keeping the fruit bushes.

We kept them because we liked redcurrants and blackcurrants. But we also liked the fact that they took up a third of the allotment.  The shed is another winner in this respect, as is the tree, the tree stump and the bench. We’re planning a compost heap and water butt and it seems reasonable to leave a ring of grass and weeds around the bushes, because it’s a bit like a path.

But that still leaves a heck of a lot of space for growing things.

And this is where our tricky moments have come in. Just when we’d agreed (or so I thought) to clear methodically and plant up cleared areas as we went along, Dad slipped down with 30 seed potatoes and planted them any which way along the back fence. ‘I thought it would be good to get something into the ground. I mean, what have we got to lose?’

Armed with friends, I dug over a neat side strip. We pulled out miles of gnarled nettle root, like unravelling a vast underground yellow jumper. We levelled a big mound the size and shape of a grave. I planted onion, spinach, cabbage, kale and turnip (as the time of year dictated) and fenced each crop in, in little prisoner-of-war camps.

The allotment began to make sense. Then Dad went down on another seed potato sortie and planted 60 in ‘a big area near the front.’

One thing I’m beginning to realise though: it doesn’t matter.  Planting areas don’t have to be  rectangular. They can be oval or kidney shaped. Or blob-shaped with bits sticking out the side.  Because allotments are massive things. There is room on them, even for two people related to each other.

Perpetual spinach - worth mentioning in the allotment blog

The Terminator

And sometimes, an area no bigger than a grave yields more produce than three people can reasonably be expected to eat. I’m talking about spinach.

Onions may fail to thrive (I put them in too late), cabbage seedlings may disappear overnight (did I dream them?), pinpricks of light like stars may decorate turnip leaves, but spinach goes on and on like the Terminator. Picking it is like a task in a fairy tale: the more you take, the more there is next time.

Mr Mandy Sutter and I ate greens all August. Dad doesn’t care for spinach. ‘It all goes into a  mulch, doesn’t it?’ Nor curly kale, which ‘you can’t get out of your mouth.’ Kale is our second most successful crop, though way behind spinach. Think Scunthorpe United compared to Man United (sorry, Mr MS).

So Dad hasn’t eaten much yet, though his services will be called in big-time when the vast potato crop comes in, as neither Mr MS nor I are big potato eaters (‘bad carbs’, don’t you know).

But produce isn’t the main draw of the allotment. ‘Reckon I’ve spent two hundred quid on the bloody thing now,’ says Dad. ‘And what have we had back: a few quids’ worth of greens? But then, that’s not the point, is it?”

So what is the point?

Perhaps it’s the resident robin who sits on a spade handle, carefully eyeing the scene.

Robin on our new allotment

Eyeing the scene

Perhaps it’s the satisfaction when a nettle root finally comes up and sends you staggering back into brambles.

Perhaps it’s the narcotic scent of the soil as you kneel pricking out turnip seedlings.

Perhaps it’s the fear in friends’ eyes as you press yet another bag of spinach into their hands.

I don’t really know. But whatever it is, we’re up to our necks in it.