The story so far:
We’d been given a small abandoned allotment patch in the Hither Green area of Lewisham, cleared it of weeds and rubbish, planted seeds of spring onions, radishes, beetroot, spinach, rocket, coriander, sunflowers and poppies.
We left it.
For two weeks.
What we didn’t consider is that even though we’d cleared the ground of weeds, the grasses around the patch were still broadcasting their seeds in the wind, searching for some nice fresh exposed soil to plant themselves in. So when we returned to the allotment, we found a small field of green shoots that we had the devil’s own job of trying to identify as to whether they were our seeds or wild grass and clover seeds.
All that effort to create what looked like a patch full of weeds
Although we’d planted our seeds in shallow furrows, the two weeks’ worth of rain and animal movement (hello Mrs Fox and Mr Cat!) had meant that lots of these lines had become obscured, and stones had become uncovered from beneath the soil by rain. Because of this, we had a tough day of individually picking out strands of grass and clover from between our baby plants and occasionally realising that what we’d just picked out was one of our precious seedlings rather than an infant weed.
Because of the long thin shape of the stalk, we picked lots of suspiciously onion-smelling ‘grass’ from where the spring onions had been planted, and over time came to realise that most of the spring onions had either been picked by us or smothered by the weeds.
So two important lessons came from this. Firstly, plants are the same as any other creature and require the most care and attention in their infancy. Second: clearing your own earth is useless unless you also clear the areas that border it.
At this point I’ll slightly digress. Hither Green is a great place to live, and I say that as someone who’s lived in some of the most ‘desirable’ areas of London like Hampstead, Highgate and Belsize Park. However, the nearest DIY or gardening shop is around 5 miles away in the opposite direction to where I commute etc, so I’ve been reliant on lunchtime trips to Central London hardware stores like Robert Dyas for small hand-tools like shears to trim back the weeds surrounding the patch (I got these for £4.99 and they’ve been great so far).
And although I try to avoid using them as much possible due to their unethical business practices, Amazon is a great resource for buying cheap, decent quality tools and seeds, especially ordering tools with free delivery (please let me know of any similar cheap, reliable online retailers).
But back to the allotment.
After a few more weeks, and this time with a bit more emphasis on tender loving care (basically regular weeding, de-stoning and watering), our crops had really begun to thrive:
The idea behind the poles with Coke cans, bags and streamers attached was to scare away birds and animals. It worked ‘pretty well’ although we learned that insects are probably your worst enemy. And possibly going blind from eating cat shit.
As you can probably see, there’s a lot of good, healthy-looking plants in the centre, but around the edges the slugs and snails had feasted like molluscan kings and queens on our sunflowers and poppies around the edges, as well as added some spice to their diet with the coriander at the foot of the patch.
While planning what to grow and how, I’d read that slugs and snails don’t like strong flavours such as coriander, as well as course surfaces such as concrete and jagged slate, so this experience had proved that there were no hard and fast rules as far as mollusc prevention goes (I suppose the lesson I’ve learned from the whole growing experience is that everything is achieved through trial and error, and is entirely subjective).
With our reluctance to use pesticides, it would be interesting to see how much would be left for us when (and if) the crops reached maturity.