When all this Coronavirus business started to kick off properly, the allotment was a place where I could take the children to burn off their energy and where I could get lost in one of the many jobs that needed doing and escape from reality. All that changed when I got my shielding letter, just when there is so much that could be done there. (I did ask my consultant if I could still go, given that it is very easy to avoid people there and I don’t need to touch communal things like gates or taps, but it was still a no due to the unnecessary car journey.) I think I would go completely stir crazy if I wasn’t growing anything at all, so we had a think about how I could use the space in our pretty small garden.
This is where a degree of compromise is needed, as the garden is not just ‘mine’, it is ‘ours’-it is where the children need to let off their steam too (apart from the odd bike ride or walk with Mr C) so using a really large area was out of the question. The solution also definitely needed to be football proof! We have the additional challenge of having truly crap soil-our garden appears to have been the dumping ground for builders rubble and waste when the houses were built, so it is full of rocks and the occasional buried piece of plastic strapping that goes around stacks of bricks. As Mr C pointed out to me, even the weeds don’t grow on the only area that was suitable for use to use! A raised bed seemed like the only solution, and luckily-given the challenges of buying materials currently-we had some wood from an old fence that was just the job. It also provided a really handy project for Mr C and our 8 year old, who both got stuck in and had it made and painted within a couple of days.
I was planning on just planting a few rows of the basic crops, like carrots and beetroot, but then I saw a link posted by a friend about square foot gardening. It seemed like the ideal solution as it used the space well, and gave me the scope to plant more things than I thought I’d be able to. Given that we were very much going for a ‘make do and mend’ approach, I had a rummage in the shed for some hammer staples so I could tie the marking strings to them without having sharp things the children could catch themselves on. (Never again will I moan at Mr C for having so many jars of ‘random screws and stuff’ as I found just enough staples in them to complete the job!) I used bakers twine from my craft stash as string, as the proper garden twine is at the allotment. If the twine doesn’t last, at least the staples are in the edges of the bed ready to have new strings tied on, but it’ll do for now.
My square foot garden is not 100% faithful to the method, as it is filled with a mix of commercial compost and home made. If I were doing it properly, it should have some vermiculite and peat compost in too-but both of those come with their own environmental concerns, and, as I said, there’s a lot of making do involved here. Also, due to size contraints, it is only approximately 2 feet by 4 feet, giving me 8 square feet to plant in. Once I’d had a look at what seeds I had, I drew a little plan. Straight away, I knew that I would only grow things that we would definitely want to use. That narrowed it down a lot, I’m not trying anything fancy or new, just some basic things so that I get my gardening fix. The children got straight in there with a request for carrots!
The number of crops that can be grown in each square foot varies by the type of plant, so carrots, for example, can have 16 plants per square foot, whereas a tomato plant needs a whole square foot to itself. So far we have sown 2 squares of 16 carrots, 2 squares of 9 beetroots and 2 squares of 9 onions-one square each of red and white. The remaining 2 I am thinking of sowing some lettuce in, then refreshing the compost a little and having a second sowing each of carrots and beetroot. This will depend on how well the first sowing turns out-it’s just an experiment right now. I have sown some tomato seeds in a propagator, and I will grow those at the front of the house where it gets full sun for most of the day. When we had the extension built last year, we had a porch added and the front wall of that will be just perfect for growing the tomatoes against. I’ve also sown some sweet pea seeds in planters, so even if I don’t get any veg I should get some flowers.
The square foot garden is meant to be really efficient for weeding and watering too. Hopefully I will still have enough to do to keep me busy tending to it though! I will have to walk round the side of the house with the water for the tomatoes every day in summer, but that shouldn’t feel like too much of a hardship given that I’m not getting my 10,000 steps a day any other way at the minute…
We haven’t given up on the allotment entirely-Mr C and the children are still allowed to go. The plan is for him to rotavate one of the large beds we covered last year and plant out the seed potatoes and the rest of the onion sets as they all need only a little bit of TLC to grow. The fruit bushes and trees will pretty much look after themselves for now, and I’m sure the children will enjoy harvesting the berries from early June onwards. Perhaps I might even be allowed to go there by the end of June, if I’m lucky. If that is the case, I’ll be able to do a late sowing of carrots and beetroot there as well.
Whether this little experiment works or not, it is giving me a reason to be outdoors, and it’s main purpose is to keep me sane!