This is Marie and Jim’s garden adventure, from small steps to a beautiful lush allotment! Follow their successes and determined approach to resolve issues on their new allotment on Instagram @ 4_muddy_boots
Our Garden Adventure Starts – our first year
One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t get actively involved in gardening until my children married and left home. My husband Jim had always gardened from a young age and kept our small garden at home looking lovely. For me a welcome place to escape from noisy teenagers. A place to read or just get some head space and admire the borders and planters filled with plants that I didn’t even know the name of.
Once my children moved out we had some free time at the weekends, so we decided to take up a joint hobby. In October 2016 we got the keys to the allotment gate for Plot 4. This is where my love of gardening began although at the time I was very sceptical that this was going to be a great hobby!
They didn’t charge us for the first year as it resembled a jungle, waist high with weeds and needing lots of work. The money we saved on rent enabled us to buy reclaimed wood to build the raised beds, manure, compost and our first seeds. If your budget is small there are plenty of free cycle sites to pick up some bargains. We had to purchase compost in our first year but now we make our own from all the waste vegetable foliage.
Rolling up our sleeves …
At this point in our garden adventure, I remember feeling completely overwhelmed and totally out of my depth with the task ahead. Jim on the other hand embraced the challenge and began to tackle the groundwork. The plot was full of couch grass, buried carpets, metal & bricks. Each weekend through autumn and that first winter we both tackled small sections of ground. Gardening in bite sized pieces definitely helped with that overwhelming feeling. As Jim laid the paths and built the beds, I was able to mulch with compost and manure.
We absolutely loved the weekends at the plot and by the end of November, we planted out garlic in one of the finished raised beds. It was so much fun in a hard work sort of way. The sense of achievement was incredible when it finally got to spring. The beds and pathways were finished. Underneath the walkways Jim laid a weed proof membrane to cut back on weeding. It was now time to sow seeds.
All photos belong to Marie and Jim, thank you for sharing them.
Sowing seeds and watching them grow at home on windowsills was by far the best part of the garden adventure for me. I grew quite attached to them. That first year we chose to sow a variety of different vegetables to see how well they grew at the plot. I learnt very quickly how to prick out and pot on in an ever so slightly heavy handed way!
I sowed way more seeds than needed, which as it turned out enabled me to make some mistakes along the way. Discarding the weaker seedlings was not my strong point. That first year we ended up with more tomato plants than we knew what to do with. Our home soon became full of vegetable seedlings all needing watering and feeding. We were not lucky enough to have a heated greenhouse. Three years on we do have a greenhouse but it’s not heated.
Our Poly Tunnel
By April, we were happy to be taking our young plants to the old inherited poly tunnel and begin the hardening off process as we slowly got our home back! We did have to rush out and buy horticultural fleece as the nights were still cold. This was our first huge mistake, as we lost a few young seedlings that first week in their new home. I remember feeling devastated. Luckily, I had sowed plenty of each and those that failed I re-sowed as it was still early in the season. All was not lost!
Hope in our garden adventure …
In very early spring, Jim planted some blackberries and raspberries and dug out trenches for the early potatoes to be planted. Onion sets, broad beans and radishes were planted directly into the ground. March, April & May seemed frantic in an exciting sort of way. Days were getting longer which enabled us to walk to the vegetable plot after work for a couple of hours. This helped de-stress after a busy day in the office. It soon became apparent that gardening gave us a great sense of well-being both physically and mentally!
Planning where the young vegetable plants were to be planted and being mindful of the importance of pest control in an organic way was somewhat of a challenge. We soon learnt if it wasn’t netted it got eaten by slugs, rodents or birds. Which can feel quite frustrating and disheartening when you have nurtured them from seed. Over the years we have chosen finer netting as we find it’s better at keeping insects such as slugs, flying insects and wood pigeons out. Keeping up with weeding is an important part of allotment life too. Now the beds are no-dig, so weeds are at a minimum and only hand weeding is required.
Success is delicious!
By May, the raised beds were full and looking lush green. The tomatoes in our makeshift plastic greenhouse were a huge success that year and the smell was just the best fragrance ever. We love growing tomatoes and it’s worthwhile sowing outdoor varieties too to grow in containers in a sunny position.
Harvesting our first vegetables that early summer was an amazing feeling, a great sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. We are eating more vegetables freshly harvested, which taste so much better than shop bought. We share our gluts of courgettes and beetroot with family and friends. I learnt how to blanch, pickle and make jams to see us through the rest of the year. Our favourite vegetable to grow are squashes, both summer varieties like patty pan and winter varieties. They need good manured soil and plenty of water but definitely worth a try. They also store well to be eaten during winter.
Reflecting on our garden adventure
That autumn we cleared the beds and mulched for winter. It was time to reflect and plan for the following season. We felt we had done a great job and had learnt so much. Three seasons on and we are still learning something new every day.
Most of the groundwork is now complete but we still set ourselves tasks to complete during the winter months, which is an ideal time to undertake projects. This season we have introduced lots flowers like cornflowers, calendula, nasturtiums and dahlias. Jim also built a herb bed and these have encouraged lots of pollinators to the allotment.
This year we plan to move some of the raised beds around. That’s the beauty of raised beds and container gardening as they can all be moved around to suit your growing conditions. We shall continue to sow and grow more flowers and the things we love to eat. Gardening is no longer a hobby but more a healthy happy way of life … a fabulous way of life!
Our tips to new gardeners
Tips for Controlling Pests and Problems
- Fine netting and cloches work well against pests such as slugs, white fly, green fly and birds. Far better than harmful pest control.
- Buy horticultural fleece, some springs are colder than others and no two springs are the same – better to be safe than sorry.
- Mulch soft fruits such as strawberries with straw. This acts a a cushion for the fruits and stops them from bruising or sat on the soil. It also acts as a great moisture retainer for the bed. We also applied this to the patty pans squashes.
- We found by sectioning off the plot into smaller areas and tackling each area before moving onto the next helped with that overwhelming feeling. It can feel quite off putting when faced with huge weedy space to tackle all at once.
- Learn from failures and try not to be too disheartened if things go wrong.
Tips for Gardening
- Label seed trays and label pots when potting on. When first sowing seeds they definitely all look the same until they get their true leaves.
- We prefer raised bed gardening as these can be moved especially if they are not deep. No-dig especially works with this type of gardening. We place a thick layer of mulch as the beds empty in late autumn . This improves the soil structure and adds microbes. Definitely helps with weed control.
- Making your own compost it’s fun & easy to do and will save you a fortune in the long run in shop bought. Compost all your waste vegetable matter. As long as it’s not diseased.
- Be mindful about successional sowing as it’ll give you a longer growing season. For example, we sow beetroot in 3 week batches from March through to July.
- Multi-sow beetroot, turnip, leeks and onions grown from seed in modules. They seem to like to grow together and just make room for each other. Don’t sow too many courgettes, 2 plants are ample for a family. We grew 6 in our first year and kept family, friends and neighbours in courgettes for weeks!
- Encourage pollinators by growing flowers or make a wildlife area.
Gardening is truly the best way to de-stress and relax. It gives you a great sense of well-being and hope you enjoy your garden adventure as much as we do!