I had a few sleepless nights whilst away, not for the cats or the guinea pigs we had left behind (who I knew would be amply cared for), but for our allotment, which has been left to fend for itself; and my dining room window sill, where I suspected the tomato plants I potted up before I went away were not going to survive my absence. Thankfully my neighbour had it all under control and we arrived home to find the tomatoes, chillies and loofahs doing beautifully. The allotment had also exploded into life in our absence - and as we haven't actually planted much up there so far, this was life of the overgrown weed kind. The quarter of the site that is yet to be cleared or mulched boasts admirable yields of chickweed (flowering and starting to set seed) and foot high nettles and dock. The grass paths (which haven't yet been edged due to the dearth of scavengable wood) are spilling onto the newly dug, mostly bare beds. Some of the cardboard mulch has become untethered by the elements and is ripping up, allowing some of the perennials we missed to poke through.
For the last few days we have spent a good few hours addressing these issues. Firstly, we got a few more things into the ground. We have two gooseberry bushes 'Invicta' and one crown each of rhubarb 'Stockbridge Arrow' and 'Champagne'. Preparing the patches of earth for these made me feel infinitely better about our predicament. I spent much of today enthusiastically tearing up clumps of chickweed and piling it into the compost bin, whilst Nick dug over a patch of ground and laid the patio slab shed base; and the boy looked on incredulously as his dad jumped up and down on paving slabs to level them.
We wanted to spend as little money on 'furnishing' our allotment as possible; and wanted to rescue as many materials from the waste stream as we could. Unfortunately there isn't much house renovation going in these parts at the moment; and materials have been scarce. Today I got creative with the materials I had to hand and began edging one of the eight beds. Firstly I used half width paving slabs that we inherited from the previous occupants of our house to edge down one length of the bed, sinking them just below the surface to separate the bed from the (weedy, you will notice) path. Once those had run out I started sinking upturned wine bottles in. They were trickier to place than the slabs, requiring a trench to be dug and back filled very gently from both sides, whilst the bottles were held wedged up firmly against one another. The end result will be quite pretty once the labels have weathered off. Now I am asking everyone who will listen to save their empties for me. Thankfully for me the recession hasn't hit home wine consumption in the way it has home renovations.
The hardest part of establishing our allotment has been going with the flow - essentially bobbing along at a very gentle pace. I had wanted everything up and running after our first month. But the resources didn't flow as fast as we anticipated - neither the cash to buy the big items we needed; nor the scrap wooden planks, mulch materials and paving slabs I had expected to procure easily and cheaply. This has been a blessing, in retrospect. It probably isn't good for a pregnant woman to throw her back out speed digging an allotment in the depths of winter. It is probably best also that we had the time to observe what was going on and how we could make best use of our plot before we rushed in and dug like demons. Gardening is a slow art, especially in the depths of winter; and I don't think I would want it any other way.