Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Cat allotment

I won't go into how long it took me to get my own allotment, nor what methods I had to resort to to actually get through to the Allotments Officer, because I haven't got all day. But now, as far as I know (she hasn't sent me a contract yet, or a bill), no. 59 is mine.

The least worst option - it has been cultivated within the past two years, unlike the other 20 allotments she said were available - it is still completely overgrown, and the surface has hardened, so it needs turning over before you can do anything with it.

I call it the Cat allotment because I found a dead cat on it; also because a previous owner has written his name on the shed, and it looks like "Mr. Cat", although I think it actually says "Mr Capart". There is solid clay only six inches below the surface, which now I have started digging it, is beginning to come up on the spade.

Joe on the next allotment (Angelo's brother), saw me struggling to pull up the weeds when I first moved on to the plot about a month ago, and lent me his scythe. I felt like a true Italian then, or a Linearbandkeramik farmer arriving in my new piece of virgin land and having to clear it by slashing and burning. I slashed and burned for about seven days in all, building three or four bonfires per day, as instructed by Joe. To my surprise, no-one complained, not the Advertiser couple on the next allotment, who seemed to be very middle-class and whom I assumed would have heard that bonfires are not good for the planet, nor the Family from Hell, who live across the fence.

It's a good time to get an allotment, because the weeds are dying back. Had I cleared this in the Spring, I would have to clear it again and again throughout the summer as my digging progressed. But now I'm confident that I won't have to do much more slashing and burning. I've just set myself the goal of digging two rows per day, merely turning it over, and digging in whatever organic material comes to hand - spent spinach plants from my other allotment, mown grass from outside my flat, discarded bolted radish plants from the next-door allotment - anything to bulk up the soil.

The rough spadefulls of turned-over earth will lie there till next spring, the winter rain and frost doing its work of softening them, the turf rotting and being turned in by the worms, till in February or March, I can begin to dig it over again, this time taking out the worst of the weed roots. Of course, if I can rotovate the plot now, so much the better - it will save me six months' initial breaking of new ground. But I don't really mind if I have to dig the lot. Digging is ideal for working off any anxieties as well as the extra pounds: it's what keeps me relatively mentally and physically fit. Though, by Jove, I know it the next day if I overdo it!

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