Salad Days

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Perhaps having the allotment was worth it after all.

I have grown salad!

Yes, dear reader, after nearly losing my allotment because it was too much to keep under control, to trying again and having the world's most embarrassing harvest, I was lucky enough to find myself with some extra time on my hands and the desperate need to get outside during Covid-19 lockdown, with the result that I have now brought home actual food that my family can eat.

And my message to you is that if you want to become healthier by eating fresh, locally grown season vegetables, boost your mental health by having a little patch of earth that you can call your own, get more exercise by digging, weeding and planting and be more creative, well then I can really recommend applying for an allotment.

Once you've got one, it's going to be hard work for a while. And you'll make a few mistakes. Such as digging without removing all of the weed roots or covering ground with cheap weed membrane that disintegrated within months, or as soon as the whippet walks on it.

There is a lot of talk about no-dig gardening, which is something that I'm really keen on implementing. People mention using cardboard as a weed suppressant layer and then covering with mulch. This seems to work pretty well, for other people. What doesn't work so well is using fresh horse manure as mulch. After a few weeks, I had more weeds than before due to all of the seeds from the bedding that the horses had stood upon.

Black plastic weed membrane (NOT the cheap stuff) is your friend, your very best friend. Buy as much as you can, then cover as much of your plot as possible and leave it down for at least 3-6 months, if not longer to starve any weeds of light and kill them completely. Once you have your plot under control, it's much easier to just open up small patches of ground to dig through, removing any large roots still alive, and make some small seed beds to get a few things growing.

Once you have somewhere to start growing, I would recommend you try out a number of different things to see what works and what doesn't. I've had almost no success with sprouts. I even planted up yet another batch of seedlings that I started off at home and planted out, but just 4 weeks later they were looking decimated. In the end I found the culprit, cabbage moth caterpillars. They were picked off and disposed of, but not before reducing my poor plants to near skeletons.

Field mustard

But salad, oh you lovey green thing you, you have restored my faith in myself to actually grow food. These last few weeks I have brought home bowls full of baby spinach, red and green lettuce, rocket, beetroot top thinnings, mustard, land cress and raddish. The taste of these lunchtime salad has been amazing. Fresh, peppery, full of life.

Field beans in flower

Whilst the salads have been cheering me up, I've watched my field beans shoot up and start bursting into delicate white oval flowers, ahead of fattening up into juicy broad beans. In three other plots potatoes have bushed out and started to flower, it won't be long before my first new potatoes hopefully are steaming on a plate, with some mint and maybe butter.

Bright yellow stalks and olive green leaves are showing where Swiss chard is taking hold. I've never eaten it before, but it looks so enticing.

Sweetcorn

Twelve small grass heads stand in my sweetcorn plot. As a small boy I remember feasting on corn on the cob, cut straight from the garden, dropped into boiling water and served dripping with butter only minutes later. I still can recollect the sweet-sugar taste, the saltiness of the butter, the joy of eating a glut of golden sun and then picking bits out between my teeth in the afterglow. You can't get this type of experience from supermarket corn. And I want to create this for my family. Looking at my tiny corn plants gives me hope and anticipation of making this, and other home grown memories, happen soon.

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