Set up and design of the heritage allotment coral

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In the beginning and the best laid plans of mice and me.

I’ll get to the mice in due course.  But let’s get started from the beginning of the journey. As part of my healthy eating plan in the clinic, it was plainly obvious to everyone but me that I was being a hypocrite. I was eating rubbish food, doing no exercise and weighing in at 18 and a half stone.  I wanted something that I could talk to my clients about regarding healthy living, I could get my family involved with and impulsively thought, “I will get an allotment”!  I looked around for allotment sites, made lots of phone calls and got told they all had waiting lists.  Then on the off chance found one not far from where I live in Shoeburyness near Southend.  I phoned them up on the Tuesday morning, spoke to the allotment manager Ray and he said they had just cleared some plots and they had some free.  So I said I would be down on Friday.

I went to the Eastern Avenue allotment plot on a Friday morning in mid April in 2010, was shown around the site and took a double plot right at the back.  Not a bad find really. I then got someone to rotavate it (bad idea as it just spread the weeds around more) and started designing what I wanted to do with it.  My friend took the one next to mine and we proceeded to fence all three plots in together.  I think the total size was around a quarter/third of an acre with all three plots.  Mark helped me get the foundations of the posts in and I saw him a few times after that.  Unfortunately the distance he had to travel and his family and work commitments got in the way and he left the plot.  In April 2011 when the plots came up for renewal I took it over and integrated it into mine, meaning I had a plot I could now start growing some serious produce on.

A small note here.  My personality is one of an obsessive compulsive.  Basically if I decide to do something, it becomes an obsession until I either get bored or get told its not best to keep doing it.  Im sure freud would have a field day with me, but, I can thankfully say, you cant really get into too much trouble with a plot of dirt and a few plants!  I also have to say that my girlfriend is VERY tolerant of me.  I didn’t do particularly well in my last relationships but, as they say it takes two to tango and you have to work at relationships, they don’t come easily as no one is the same and everyone has their own views on, or about life.

So I had one founding principle, don’t use chemicals (I did use a small dab of weedkiller on a couple of stubborn brambles I can assure you that was it) and don’t use unnatural fertilisers.  Basically, I use horse poop, or an organic liquid feed I found in B & Q.  I have however found if I soak Horse poop in the water butt, it makes a fantastic liquid feed so tend to do this now.

I then set about deciding what I wanted, how I wanted to set it up, where everything was going to go and went from there. I decided on the raised bed idea.  It saves your back and knees a bit, plus you can sow grass seed between the beds, mow it and use the clippings for the compost bins.  I try and recycle all compostables.  Also raised beds in my opinion makes it easier to work out where everything is.  (As you will read later on, I dispensed with the grass paths and opted for weed suppressant fabric to reduce mowing time)
I also needed a couple of other essentials.

  • The Polytunnel
  • The shed
  • A water supply
  • Time to do it all

The polytunnel
The general set up became a work in progress over the period from 2010 running into when I started planting my seeds up in 2011 inside it.  Everything was made from scratch and designs came from the internet, I have included all the links on the links page to save people the time of hunting around.  As I am a bloke I also went on the premise that if a particular size will do, then if you go a few sizes bigger it will more than likely be that much more useful.  Amusingly, my design for the polytunnel, although it is already huge, could have been that much bigger! But hey ho, it’s a lesson learned!

The shed(s)
This was a steal.  I was given the shed by my dad; a cedar wood, tongue and groove 10 foot by 8 foot, including goodness knows how many slabs.  A bonus that saved me well over a  £1000!!!  The 6 by 4 shed was dismantled from work and is used for dirty tools and general storage.

The water supply
This was a story and a half.  Our local tap was 100m away and it worked out cheaper to buy some MDPE pipe and offer that to Ray than get a hose.  He then set up a local tap at our end of the plot.  I then tee’d off the pipe and now have my own taps in both the main plot and in the polytunnel!

Now this was going to be an interesting one.  I anticipated that I was going to need some time to do this, however as Emma was pregnant and due in June, it gave me 8 weeks to get things started.  Oh how that went wrong!  Aimee popped into this world 4 weeks early, via C-section and time became somewhat short. A new baby is somewhat harder than I anticipated and something that in retrospect I take my hat off to my ex wife.  Although we broke up not knowing what was going on, 5 weeks after she moved back up with her family, she discovered she was pregnant.  Some relationship don’t work and just to try and make one work for the child is bad, not just for the parents, but in my opinion far worse for the child!  George, is a lovely little boy, that although I don’t see him as near as much as I would like to, we talk weekly via facetime and he is thriving on the love of his family up North, for that I am thankful.

So as Aimee grew and became a little older, I was able to do more in the Summer of 2010 and I often used to go down there as early as 4.30 in the morning after doing the night shift with Aimee. Many of the plants have been grown from seed and as such I have tried a couple of different ideas for maximising produce, with minimal input time wise from myself.  I am hoping that 2013/4 will be the year that I have managed to get the correct balance between time input and produce output to keep my “work” “life” balance correct.  I have also designed it so that my daughter can get involved as well.  My daughter is a very important part of this project and she has been involved from the start.  Even before she was born and was nothing but a speck in my partners tummy I was planning ahead to make this fun for her as she grew and developed.  She was 6 months old when she first went down and there are photos of her in her buggy having a munch on a piece of fresh spinach. She has been munching on vegetables and fruit ever since, so my project has already been a resounding success.

Brogdales and Thomas Etty
Who are these two Characters then?  Well Brogdales are the national heritage fruit tree nursery.  Basically they can supply trees, bushes, etc and all have an age provenance that you can choose from.  Thomas Etty Esq. is a heritage seed merchant.  Most of my seeds comes from here, however a few bits are from DT Browns.  But I will indicate where they come from as I go along.