The Start of a journey…

In recent years, I have witnessed and come to appreciate, a wider acceptance and desire for home-grown produce and growing using organic sustainable methods. There is an infinite source of information now appearing online, concerning new techniques being trialled and tested to drive a “cleaner” and “greener” growing methods as well as reduce waste, heavy pesticides and commercially produced fertilisers to ‘protect our future’.

Most of these innovative ideas appear to be working to some degree on large scales globally as people revisit traditional practices and take ownership as well as responsibility to culture the soil. On large scales and with massive amounts of investment, organic and conscientious farming is becoming possible as consumers have a greater appreciation of where their food is coming from.However, for me, reading about/researching these new ideas and appreciating their success, this got me thinking about how to scale ideas and put into practice some suggestions on a much smaller (and affordable) scale.

Living in London there is not much room to grow your own and live like people who make their living running smallholdings and farms.My garden is small. It is very shady in spots. It is 99.99% concrete. However, one cold weekend in January looking at an aerial picture of my area around my house online (searching for somewhere to order some nice hot takeaway), I noticed a large green area just across the road. Zooming in an “interest pin” appeared and the word “Allotment” in the name.Hence, about 10 minutes later and some more research, I had come through a clunky website and subsequently sent a form in to the allotment association who appeared to have a range of plots across the road. This was January 2019.

Having an old-fashioned idea in my head had very little knowledge on Allotments, who knows what was in this mystery green area hidden just a few minutes from my house. To me an allotment is something rare in London and from what I had read about, they have ridiculously long waiting times spanning years before you even have the possibility to rent one – do you even rent it or do you have to buy it? I had no idea around sizes of plots, costs, possibilities, ownership or anything. The remainder of January came and went. So did February. As time moved on, my email form was nearly forgotten about, until I received a reply a few month later in May. It was the Allotment Association.

Apparently, it took a while for my form to reach them, as the website was not working as expected (based on the sites appearance – it took me back to nostalgic memories of websites in 1999). As they had received a number of applicants, they had already confirmed with a couple to meet on Saturday 11th May, however if they finish early, they will give me a ring and I could come and view a plot.

Excellent. Why not? Time to ask questions.

Unfortunately, they did not finish early and I did not receive a call. Later that day I did however receive a call from a lovely gentleman who agreed to arrange a meeting the following weekend. I was booked in!

“9am Saturday morning. Meet at the gate.”

This gave me a week to be thinking of the allotment. I had looked at the aerial picture again; planning my route for Saturday…but where is this gate? Trees are not an aerial pictures ‘friend’! I couldn’t see any obvious entrances to the site.This meant that is was time to do some reconnaissance…Embark! Ninja-mode! Aim was not to be caught and looking ‘too keen’ or reported for loitering.After work on-route home, I would try to find the mysterious fabled gate. I found a walkers path, which appeared to follow the boundary of the Allotments…perhaps it also had a gate. There was another option down a side road. In addition, there was a large mysteriously opening on a driveway. After all my ninja activities, – alas – I could not locate the front gate…or any entrance at all. Embarrassingly I penned an email to the Association. “Thank you for confirming our appointment on Saturday, however please could I have some instructions on where I shall be meeting you as I am unable to locate the gate. Many thanks.”

How embarrassing.

Shortly a response came…“Yes, the gate is well hidden. Please walk up X Road until you see a copse on the left. There is a small path on the left and the gate is there past the last house.”Hmm. At least they know the gate is “well hidden” but what mysterious instructions…luckily I knew what a copse is. Thinking back to my aerial scoping, there are groups of trees everywhere in my area. Especially it seems around this allotment site! I went full detective mode again. This time, I tried a different route. I was getting warm. I found a small road, which definitively lead to the boundary fence as I could see the allotments about 10 yards on the other side. I must be close. That was enough reconnaissance for now.

To cut a long story short, Saturday came and off I lead a group of my family members to see the potential historic allotment journey I was to start to embark on. Down the small road, I lead the merry band. Only it turned out to be completely wrong again and the small road only lead to a garage. Eventually, after one of my party asked a friendly neighbour out cleaning his car (who lived with their garden backing onto the allotment) where the gate is…and they didn’t even know, I decided to phone the Allotment people for assistance. Whilst on the phone I managed to locate my allotment guide and finally – the Mysterious gate. Surprisingly, the processes turned out simple. Greeted by the ‘Chairman’, ‘Treasurer’ and ‘Head Grounds Keeper’ I followed them around making small talk and viewing the other already in use plots.

Turns out that they have been using the grounds and maintaining these plots for over a quarter of a century (at least). As such, I received a full history on my plot. Shadowed by four large oaks the plot had been dark for the last decade or so. Hence, the previous user had only really used the plot to grow a staggering amount of potatoes for the last 5 years. However last year, one of the oak trees had come down due to having rot in a bad storm, narrowly missing a greenhouse was no longer on the plot, and now thankfully some light can come though around mid-day. The soil (like most of South London) is clay. Very Heavy Clay.The plot had grass walkways around it which were maintained, as and when. The previous owner had used “organic” growing methods…but due to the plot having been left for some time they had sprayed the whole plot with weed killer – not ideal, as I had no idea what sort of “weed killer” was used.

Either way, costs and plot were of a decent size so I did not need to think about it for too long and promptly agreed. They were a little cautious of me, warning me about the amount of “work” owning a plot takes – I was just turning 30 and work pretty much 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, so this was going to be my weekend thing. I was undaunted by the prospect and after I had done some convincing, they all agreed to allow me to take the plot.

Therefore, the journey begins.

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