Clearing the Allotment | October Half Term
I thought that I would keep a journal of what we accomplish during each trip to the allotment whilst we work on clearing the plot this coming week. There’s so much organic waste, nettles, brambles, rotten pallets, bricks, black plastic, and other shit buried at the back of the plot. “Out of sight, out of mind” is what I imagine the previous tenant(s) thought. They planted a huge clump of miscanthus and did their best to ignore the mess, and I suspect this week is the first time in a long time that anyone has tried to tackle the heap. The miscanthus itself is a pain in the arse and I’m dreading having to dig the roots out.
Saturday 22nd October
This afternoon Ed and I spent two hours on the plot. We borrowed one of the communal wheelbarrows and filled it up with brambles and rotten wood. Ed made six round trips from one side of the allotment site to the other to take the waste to the communal bonfire heap. It’s probably about 500m between our our plot and the bonfire heap.
Meanwhile, I sorted through the compost that we decanted from the original compost heaps. We moved these on our first visit from a damp and inaccessible corner at the back of the plot to the grass at the front of the plot. I pulled out any wooden material and threw that to one side so that Ed could add it to the communal bonfire, and then layered green and brown waste into the plastic dalek compost bin we found on the plot when we took it over. I gave it a good watering as the material was very dry, and then put the lid back on. There is plenty of partially composted material in there and lots of woodlice, so I’m hoping that the pile should do something over the coming months now that it’s been given some care and attention.
Using the fork, I raked up oak leaves which had fallen around the shed so that they don’t rot the shed, and added a good few forkfuls to the plastic compost bin to fill out the top. Clearing the oak leaves will be an ongoing job, as they are only just beginning to fall.
With the giant pile of organic waste at the front of the plot depleted, I took the loppers to the back of the plot and cut down 80% of the surface nettles and brambles, put them in a wheelbarrow, and moved them to the front of the plot to create a new heap. Eventually we’ll move the brambles to the bonfire and put the nettles into a new compost heap, but that needs to wait until we’ve reconstructed the pallet compost heap. We can’t do that until we’ve fully cleared the back of the plot and levelled the ground.
I haven’t been able to find us thorn proof gloves yet as I can’t find any that aren’t made of leather, so with soft weeding gloves on I handled the material at arm’s length using the loppers and fork, as well as two large plastic leaf gathering shovels. It wasn’t too challenging, but I hope to find some leather free thorn proof gloves soon anyway as we’ll need them for moving the fruit bushes and pulling the old chicken wire off the fruit cage. I’d prefer to net the fruit cage as it’ll give us access from all sides and increase the useable space inside the frame.
Ed pulled out two rotten pallets from beneath the brambles and nettles and dismantled them, taking the remnants to the bonfire heap. There’s still more wood buried under nettles, but we’re getting there. I’ve pulled up all the thick black plastic sheeting which was on the ground at the back of the plot and left it in a pile to fold and put away on a dry day.
At the end of our afternoon of work, I felt like we’d barely scratched the surface. There’s just so much to do. Ed is feeling much more optimistic about things. I think I’ll feel better once we’ve fully cleared the living brambles, living nettles, and other organic remnants and can see bare earth at the back of the plot.
Monday 24th October
Today we pulled up and folded about 200 square metres of thick black plastic sheeting, which was covered in soil, leaves, slugs and snails. To get to it we had to pull off yet more rotten wood and enough bricks to build a small patio. We pulled up any loose but structurally sound wood and propped it up so that it doesn’t go soft over winter. It can be reused when we redesign and rebuild the beds, though that feels a long way off at this point.
Ed dug out the miscanthus and as he was lifting it with a fork a little frog popped out of the foliage to see what was going on. I felt guilty disturbing their peace, but there are plenty of places for them to hide and I’m sure they’ll be fine. Miscanthus has no place on our allotment, and I’m glad to see it gone. I thought we’d need a mattock to get it out but the roots were quite shallow.
We also saw a fox who snuck up behind Ed and took him by surprise whilst he was working on the miscanthus. It’s unusual to see them in the middle of the day. The fox didn’t stay long, leaving our plot to walk across our neighbour’s plot and then under someone’s garden fence.
Tuesday 25th October
As soon as we arrived today we borrowed two communal wheelbarrows and made three round trips, side by side, to take more wood to the communal bonfire heap. We put the really soggy, rotten wood into the woods at the end of our plot. Some of the logs we found on our plot were hollow and very near the end of decomposition, so it didn’t make sense to burn them.
The rest of the afternoon was spent digging up dock roots, brambles and nettles, carefully separating leaf matter from root, and shifting the huge pile of organic material amassed at the back of the plot to a managed heap on the right hand side. There is too much organic material to put into a formal compost heap, so we’ve decided to just pile it deep and high, pushing it into the undergrowth at the very back of the plot. It will eventually rot down here. Most of it is leaf matter, but there are also nettles and docks (without their roots).
We can finally see the ground.
Wednesday 26th October
Ed pulled the chicken wire off the fruit cage, and I spent the afternoon digging up brambles and dock roots.
Friday 28th October
We took a day off from the allotment and made a daytrip to Bristol instead to see Dad and visit Mum in hospital, but returned today with Ed’s parents, who helped us start to turn the beds over. I’m so grateful for their help, we got so much done today. I made an unhappy discovery though, which is the presence of landscaping fabric beneath a few of the paths. It’s a pain in the arse to remove, because it has started to disintegrate and is matted with weeds. I pulled up one path’s worth of fabric but there are at least two more 10m paths that have the fabric under them, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find it elsewhere on the plot too. Still, we’re getting there.