(james benedict brown) on the road

Into the soil

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 17 March, 2009

Like two new parents leaving the maternity ward for the very first time, we carried two carefully packed boxes of heavily chitted seed potatoes from our apartment up to the allotment yesterday. With the gung ho enthusiasm of two people who don’t have a clue what they’re doing, we’ve ploughed a not inconsiderable amount of time, money and labour into our little half-plot allotment garden. Yesterday marked the beginning of the next phase in our nascent gardening careers. Our little babies were taking their first steps in the outside world.

Amongst various other crops, we’re experimenting with two kinds of seed potato: a second early called Lady Balfour and a maincrop called Vales Everest. These are not the most common varieties found in our allotments, but since we’re surrounded by cheap greengrocers and food stores in Govanhill and since we hope to have many more years of gardening ahead of us, we wanted to try two unusual (but nonetheless reportedly hardy) varieties. They arrived about a month ago, and have spent the intervening time sitting in egg boxes by our tall living room window. Glasgow tenements like ours aren’t much good for germinating seeds that need heat (as we have discovered) but the tall ceilings and large windows make this kind of light based germination (the right term for potatoes?) nice and easy.

The little green-purple sprouts that have appeared on the potatoes are mostly firm, although they still seem remarkably delicate. I was about to toss them all into canvas bags for the short walk to the plot, but we realised it would probably be safer to pack them in boxes. Over-cautious, perhaps, but that sort of detail is precisely the sort of question (how to transport potatoes that have chitted) that gardening books and seed packets don’t explain. Qualitative planting guidelines are great – e.g. “plant potatoes 20cm apart in drills 30cm apart”- but the precise situation we’re in always raises other questions – how close to our path can we plant a drill of potatoes without the crop growing under it?

Based on the conversations we’ve been having with neighbouring gardenings and from the information we’ve been reading, I’ve established two fairly comforting maxims since starting on our allotment. One – there is rarely a consensus about how to do something (sk two people in our allotments how they would do something and you will get two contradictory answers) and two – stop worrying. Since taking on the plot early in the year we’ve weeded it repeatedly, turned the soil and weeded it again before investing in a truck load of horse manure. In the words of one particularly helpful allotment holder nearby “everything wants to grow once it’s in the ground.”

These principles mirror with remarkable accuracy my experience of learning architecture at university. There are always two conflicting answers to every question, and ultimately it doesn’t matter so much as to lose sleep over it. We have a small plot and have squeezed as much in as we can for this first year. Whatever grows will be celebrated by the nervous young parents of this plot.

Progress

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 6 February, 2009

allotment1

For the first time in my life, I have achieved something in a garden. Above, our half-plot as we received it. And 2 weeks later…

allotment2

A couple of cm of snow, and now two or three nights of hard frosts are hopefully killing off the exposed roots of any of the weeds I wasn’t able to dig out myself. The soil seems in good quality, although we have (with very generous help from neighbouring plot holders) located a plentiful source of free horse manure and now plan to bring a truck load in.

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Meanwhile, a day with a panel van produced five euro palettes in striking colours (from the pavements of Govanhill and Tradeston), seven doors (Freecycle) and concrete blocks for foundations (from Travis Perkins, the only items that required purchase). More materials are hopefully in the pipeline, or whatever conduit it is that brings materials to the allotment…