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Six months into Highgate Allotment Life

It has been six months since I joined Highgate allotment life. Although it’s been a steep learning curve, on the whole a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Click the link to read my first blog when I initially took over the plot.

Getting a hand from a friend.

Gardening and cultivation should mostly be a zen-inspiring experience, however there have been two battles raging in my plot over the past six months:

1) Slug Warfare
I imagine slugs saw this rookie strolling onto the plot with an arm full of seeds and unrealistic ambitions, and laughed a slime trail to my freshly dug beds. This was my first lesson in gardening; nature, and the creepy crawlies within its kingdom, are after the same goal as me, to eat fresh produce. Lessons learnt are to use Nemaslug, an organic substance that is diluted with water and kills slugs beneath the surface. I can also use wire mesh. I just need to accept the slugs aren’t going anywhere and like a young child with a new toy, I need to learn to share.

2) Pin the horsetail on the donkey
Apparently, a man who previously owned my plot used a rotor blade to dig the plot up but succeeded in shredding the extremely fast growing horsetail stems. This resulted in an explosion of horsetail weeds springing up everywhere and quite frankly, it drove me crazy. I was down there everyday pulling out shoots which seem to grow up to four inches overnight.

However, now I’ve made my peace with it. I now look at my allotment as a shrine to horsetail, a homage to the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs and horsetail lived in harmony. Yes, I still pull it out but without the aggression as before. Anyone after the health benefits of this weed (of which there are man apparently), you’re welcome to come and pull fistfuls from plot R5A.

In the beginning, six months previous

It’s coming along nicely at Highgate allotment

What has been happening?
Overall I’ve been pretty happy with my first summer season at Highgate Allotment. The previous owner left the place in fairly decent condition so I began with a strong advantage. I stripped all the beds back to the core, framed them with recycled wood, and added loads of wood chip to keep everything looking clean.

I’ve never considered myself a straight-line gardener but you only have to blink at my plot to see this is absolutely not the case. All beds are fenced off meticulously and follow a rectangular structure. Even the new one I dug in today is all about the straight lines. I guess I’m a lot more anal than I realised.

My soil rotation skills need some work. In the beginning I spent lots of time turning the soil, then I eased off and paid the price with stunted carrots. Now having learnt my lesson, I realise the importance of prep work before plants go into the ground. Slap my naughty wrist!

Germination – the whole idea of planting a seed until it grew into a sapling, only to sow it into the ground later seemed crazy idea. Why not just cut out the middle man and sow the seed directly into the ground! I can hear experienced gardeners chuckling under their breath but let’s just say I learnt why. Firstly, the slugs ate most of them, some didn’t grow, and generally, they need a helping hand to get stronger before being planted. Lesson learnt for next year.

Peas have come and gone, serving up a bountiful supply of English and Sugar Snap peas. The mistake I made was not training them early on so they were a mass of entwined vines and leaves. Sometimes I was pulling both varieties from the same plant, only two realise they had actually grown together. I enjoyed a bumper harvest but noted how to fix this problem, having just replanted more.

I’ve learnt that growing courgettes is like waiting for the number 134 bus, you wait for ages and then they all come at once. Truly, I am sick of the sight of them now and have about four in my fridge which I cant face eating. Thinking back to my childhood, this was the world before globalisation; we ate what was seasonal and accepted its absence when it wasn’t. All of my friends have had a courgette from me this year. In hindsight, four plants was perhaps too much.

Enjoying a beer and spot of gardening

Carrots were my ultimate fail but provided me with a good laugh. I didn’t spend as much time preparing the soil and as a result, they grew like there had been a chemical spill. Although I forced myself to eat them, lets just say they won’t be winning any beauty competitions. Go directly to jail, do not collect £200 from the bank!

Pumpkins are my true success story with four plants attempting to take over the space on my plot. They’re still green but already fairly big, and spreading out as much as a German on a sun lounger in Spain. I can almost taste fresh pumpkin soup! Cucumbers and potatoes will also be replanted next year after a bumper harvest.

Also noted is slugs appear to love strawberries as much as I do and want to try every single fruit in the bed. Next year I’ll be laying down plastic to keep those slimy fellows at bay, and to control the wandering shoots.

What I’ve enjoyed most about Highgate allotment life, and completely unexpected, is the community spirit. It’s a rare thing in London to find so many different personalities inside a fenced off community. I also the love the fact that it is quiet, a place where I can escape big city life and retreat to the soil.

If you see me on plot R5A, come say hi.

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