It’s been a while (a long while) since I posted anything much about the allotment. Our winter visits have mainly consisted of feeding, watering and cleaning out the chickens, harvesting the odd parsnip and checking for damage after each of the winter storms. Now, however, our attention has begun to turn to the fast approaching growing season.
The last week has been half term here, so I’ve been off work and the children have been at home. On Monday we went to the plot for the morning, mainly planning on laying down some cardboard and compost as part of a ‘no dig’ experiment. (Mr C had received a delivery in a very large box, which I quickly claimed!) We are a little late with setting it up, as ideally it would be done around November to give the cardboard longer to break down. Since there are areas of the plot we don’t use each year, I decided there would be no harm in trying it, as even if it doesn’t break down before we want to plant things out in late May, that soil will be really good for next year’s planting season. I also weeded the compost heap, as it was looking very neglected and I didn’t want to put weeds onto my no dig bed, since the idea is that covering up the ground kills the old ones off.
Another big project has been setting up a chicken tractor. It’s an idea that has appealed to me for a while, as the chickens basically move around the plot in a portable coop, eating the weeds and pecking up grubs whilst fertilising the soil. What’s not to love about that? When we moved them to the allotment, we also took their small coop from our garden. I had to do a few running repairs with a hammer and some staples to reattach the chicken wire in several places, but other than that it was still fine. (Apart from weighing an absolute tonne.) Proper chicken tractors have wheels, but I wasn’t 100% sure on how to attach them so they are removable so we have had to improvise when moving it around. Mr C is going to work on that another day; for now we use tools we call ‘sliders’. Basically we lay planks of wood on the ground in the direction we want to move the coop, carefully lift/shuffle the coop onto them and then push it along the wood, which is a heck of a lot easier than moving it across soft mud.
So far the coop has moved 3 times and the results are fantastic. Since last Monday they have cleared 2 raised bed areas and are now working on a particularly stubborn weed patch. I couldn’t believe how quickly they stripped the ground of weeds, as well as pecking up the top layer of soil in search of grubs. (It’s a good job we aren’t growing anything right now as they are very efficient-if it’s green, it’s gone!)
Whilst the chickens weren’t in their main coop, Mr C and our son dug over their patch of soil. It wouldn’t be digging without finding a few worms, and the children named these two Gary (little worm) and Henry (big worm). They were safely put back in the soil after their photo shoot.
Although we couldn’t do much in other parts of the plot as the soil was too claggy (technical term, obviously!), we did have a look at the strawberries, removing the old leaves and trimming off runners where new plants had already become established. Lots of people advise just running a lawnmower over the plants at the end of the growing season, but ours are currently in these long troughs so the lawnmower was not the most practical idea. It does look a bit neater now, and the new growth is coming through nicely. We need to expand our strawberry growing area, so we haven’t done too much apart from giving them a haircut and assessing how many there are. (Loads is the answer, I’m sure strawberries are the plant equivalent of rabbits when it comes to reproducing.)
The plot directly in front of ours has become vacant, and there isn’t a waiting list for plots. (A few others on the site are also empty right now too.) Mr C went to the Parish Council offices to put his name down for the one in front, as it would be especially handy to have a car parking spot. If we do get it, our current plot will be more of a fruit growing area, and we will use the front one for vegetables. If we don’t, we will re jig what we have a little as there are one or two things we want to change. Hopefully we will know soon, before it is too late to move plants.
In the meantime, I’m trying to tidy up the current plot. We acquired a lot of plant pots (as in almost industrial scale amounts) last year and they are still on the plot in one tonne builders bags which I think are very unsightly. We are planning to build a pot storage station for the ones we will use, and give some away to fellow allotment holders. I started today and managed to offload a few! After my post about plastic usage, it seems terribly wasteful to just dispose of them so if others can use them then I feel slightly better. I am also hand weeding the areas around the sheds before the weeds really settle in, and the chicken tractor I mentioned above should help with weed control too.
I think that’s all for now, I am really happy with the progress we’ve made in the last week and feel quite enthusiastic about what we could achieve this year. Have you been out in the garden or allotment much lately? What do you do in the winter months to prepare for spring?