Sunday 4 October 2009

Getting started – our first season on the TN city allotment

October is the start of the new gardening year and we’re getting ready to dig. Today, on our first birthday, Transition Norwich officially opens our very own city allotment at Mahesh Pant’s community allotment scheme (Grow Our Own) on the Bluebell Lane South site. We’re in good company – Michelle Obama’s doing it; lots of fellow Transitioners around the country are doing it; even Her Maj is doing it.

The idea for a TN allotment came to us at Take Five, where the comms group has had quite a few good ideas (must be the ambience!). “Wouldn’t it be great,” we said, “to have our own TN allotment, where we could learn and share, grow lots of exciting things that aren’t easy to get in the shops, cook lots of great dishes with seasonal and regional food – and have a lot of fun doing it?”

The timing was perfect. It was late summer, just in time to join the queue for autumn’s new allotment spaces. I’ve already got a little patch at Mahesh’s Grow Our Own, where several of us Transitioners have been growing veggies for a while. Traditional allotments are huge and the drop-out rate is high (not to mention the waiting lists). At Mahesh’s scheme, he’s divided plots up into a manageable size for beginners, strips just 1.2 metres by 6 metres. Everything is organic. He provides free seeds, plants, compost and muck; there are communal tool-sheds so we don’t have to bring our own.

There’s a lovely other-world atmosphere here. In contrast to the immaculately manicured Dig for Victory allotment in St James’s Park (bulging with productivity) or the serene enclosed space of old walled gardens like Felbrigg in North Norfolk, this is a place full of improvisation and endless variety. At busy times (Wednesday and Sunday mornings) there are lots of people about, ready to chat and swap tips; at other times it’s tranquil and perfect for quiet reflection while keeping on top of the weeds. This is no regimented market garden – there’s room for all sorts of different ways of growing things.

Our site is a block of land 14 metres by 6 metres, with a little pond in the middle. That gives us room for four strips of conventional planting – a strip for potatoes and roots, one for the cabbage family, one for peas and beans and one for everything else that’s grown annually. In the central strip around the pond, we can have fruit, flowers and herbs in pretty little potager beds. And there’s plenty of room for some permaculture – Brenna’s buzzing with ideas for that.

So what’s the next thing for our plot? We need to start digging, because we have only the month of October before it gets too cold to sow things. And we need to start planning in detail, because in no time at all it will be spring again. There are some things that we can still sow and plant now. If we’re speedy with the digging, we can put in onion seeds, garlic cloves (watching out for the foxes – apparently they adore them and dig them up), Russian kale and winter lettuce plants, radicchio and other hardy Italian salads, broad beans….

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