· life ·

The wind has died down a bit now after a stormy couple of weeks, so we took the opportunity to start to define the planting beds on our allotment plot. It actually took a couple of goes, because on our first visit in the morning we realised that we couldn't remember which of the three newly-created plots was ours. Rather than put a lot of work into measuring out beds, only to find that we were measuring the wrong one, we went back home to call the person who looks after the site, and ask him which one we were supposed to be on. It was lucky we did, because our guess was wrong.

So, the afternoon saw us wheeling the wheelbarrow out again in take two, which was much more productive. We were amazed by the size of the plot when we measured it -- it's about 8.5 m by 14.5 m, so we can fit many more beds in than I'd originally calculated on paper. We're working on the basis of a set of four beds, with paths in between, that we can rotate from year to year so that we can avoid the build up of pathogens in the soil, and improve the beds successively. One will hold members of the Solanacae family (potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers), the second legumes (beans and peas), the third brassicas (broccoli, kale, cabbage etc), and the final plot for onions and roots. Anything that doesn't fit into those categories will slot into one of the other plots, depending on the kind of soil conditions it likes. We'll probably also have a few permanent beds eventually for perennial crops like soft fruit bushes, rhubarb, asparagus and so on. We've managed to fit 8 beds in quite easily, so we'll have two beds of each kind of rotation bed.

It felt really good to be getting on with it, even if we won't be able to plant anything out for at least a month. The soil is good (some clay, but overall a good loam), and when we tested the soil pH today, it was pH7, so it's quite versatile, and should be suitable for most crops without much intervention. Parts of the plot are very soggy at the moment because of all the rain we've had lately, but hopefully it will dry out a bit as spring arrives.

If we manage to grow a reasonable crop on even half of the area, we'll have an excellent supply of fruit and vegetables from late spring right through to early winter, which will be good. We've ordered a load of seeds from the Real Seed Catalogue, which has a lovely range of unusual and heritage varieties, none of which are hybrids, so you can save your own seed for next year. I'm impressed that they strongly encourage you to do so, because it's somewhat against their own commercial interests! However, they've got such an extensive range that I'm sure we'll be back for new varieties next year, even if we save seed and regrow it next year. As a home grower, you're not going to be able to compete with large-scale agricultural suppliers on price for most basic food crops, so we've chosen crops that are either infinitely better when eaten very fresh (like peas, beans and lettuces), unusual and therefore unavailable in the shops, or very expensive to buy (mangetout, rocket).

We're novices at this, so we're bound to have many failures as well as some successes, but it's going to be very interesting -- and, I suspect, rather addictive -- learning how to do this horticulture thing.