The Secret Garden

I have to confess.  I might own a share of a garden centre but I am not a gardener.  Before meeting my wife Hilary I had never set foot in a garden centre.  I am now fortunate that Hilary is such a good gardener.  However, I have grown a few vegetables and enjoy cooking.  There is something very satisfying about picking fresh vegetables that you have produced by your own toil and then eating them within an hour of lifting them from the ground.  I have thus harboured a secret urge to set up my own allotment.  The moment has now come.

As part of a wider plan to produce on site more of what we sell, we have decided to establish our own allotment to supply the Garden Café.  As the allotment develops we may well open it up to view by our customers as a “show” or perhaps even a “demonstration” garden to educate children and customers on the principles of growing your own vegetables organically.  For now though it will be hidden away in secret.  My aim in producing this fortnightly blog is to share my experience and mistakes with other complete amateurs and perhaps inspire them that if I can do it, so can anyone. Comments on my own efforts and tips for others would be welcome.

Week One – Sunday 31 March to Saturday 6 April 2013

Planning and Preparation

The site chosen for this secret garden is currently hidden from public view to spare my embarrassment.  It is a piece of ground formerly part of the plant area but now fenced off for redevelopment.  It thus needs quite a bit of preparation to remove the gravel from the old plant beds, dig over the soil that has been covered in plastic and compacted over many years and to protect the plot from rabbits.  We are plagued by rabbits and they cause immense damage to our plant stock on the nursery and plant areas.  My plot is 11m by 8.5m, surrounded on 3 sides by high Leylandii hedging and open to the East.  Accordingly the Southern border is shaded for much of the day but the rest of the plot receives plenty of Sun (when we have it).  Having laid out the paths I am left with approximately  53 m2 of growing space in 4 beds.

Since we are forced to shut on Easter Sunday by law then I can give myself the day off and make a good start on preparing the plot.  Whilst the weather is still cold it is forecast to warm up by the end of the week so I need to be ready to get planting straight away.

It takes a few days of hard work to prepare the beds and I shift at least 5 tons of gravel by hand.  I hired a mechanical rotivator to help turn over the soil as it is full of hedge roots and the soil is compacted clay.  At Hilary’s suggestion I have dusted each bed with lime to “sweeten” the soil and raked it in.  It is too late to dig in manure as unless it is well rotted it can burn the young plants.  This a job that will have to be done in the Autumn.  However, as I am ready to plant each bed I am digging in some Blood, Fish and Bonemeal mixture.

Now the plot is ready for planting it is time to plan what to grow.  I will be growing my plants organically so I am keen to follow the principles of crop rotation.  However, I cannot follow an exact plan as I am constrained by the environment.  I have to take into account that one bed is always going to be shaded and that taller plants will shade the other crops.  Another consideration is that this is prime vegetable growing farmland here and thus locally grown vegetables are abundant and inexpensive.  I need to maximise the value I get from my labour.  I have thus decided to grow vegetables that are not grown locally or are much better eaten very fresh.  As I start planting I will explain my rationale for choosing the crop but that will have to wait until next week.