Adventures of an allotmenteer


A little over a year ago, on a gorgeous autumnal afternoon I was standing amongst the Rye Harbour allotments with Jill and admiring her recently acquired plot. The sun shone, a light breeze blew, birds twittered and an abundance of vegetation sprouted from soily beds.

It was Jill’s first year on her patch, which she shares with partner Jack, and already they had enjoyed a glut of raspberries which they had been eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A little summer house, bequeathed by a neighbour, stood next to a unique pent shed which Jack, being a handy carpenter, had fashioned from old windows and doors. Sticks of furniture created from wooden pallets were dotted about and an ancient brambly hedge marked the boundary.

These allotments nestle Narnia-like on a piece of shingle between the village of Rye Harbour and the nature reserve. Handily, they are just at the end of a leafy path only a few minutes’ walk from our house. I was completely smitten, and, filled with desire to create my own patch of green tranquillity, I emailed my interest to Icklesham Council. It was a joyful day just over a year later that a letter arrived from the council with their offer of a plot.

This allotment is one of just a few in the Harbour and in December last year it was jam packed with waist high brown weeds, bound together by a mat of couch grass with bramble veins, thick as a finger, running through the soil.

Word spread that I was the new tenant and neighbours passed by, on foot and by bike, wearing big smiles as they chuckled that I had my work cut out. That work began on Boxing Day. With a dismembered turkey sitting in the fridge and mildly hungover, I set out with my Dad, Pops, some shears, secateurs and a rake to make a start on the war on weeds.

Fathers have their uses! Pops on the allotment on Boxing Day 2015
Fathers have their uses! Pops on the allotment on Boxing Day 2015

A few hours later, cheeks burning from the bracing wind, Dad and I, almost hidden behind our weedy mountain, were cheered to see Porter and Margaret, come over to say hello. Porter and Margaret are tenants of the plot opposite, they also own and run the popular Albatross Tea Rooms and Gallery at the end of the Harbour Road.

They offered me some history of my plot. It transpires that the tenant before last had left behind a very nice but aged greenhouse. For some reason it was decided by the council that this greenhouse could not be left standing, so one day a man came with a machine and rotovated the entire structure, glass and all, into the soil. An odd decision as most people who tend an allotment would find a greenhouse very useful.

The tenant, following the greenhouse sabotage, again rotovated the area, erected a large plastic storage container, bought three striped windbreaks and was never seen again. That had been over a year ago and accounted for the jungle of unwanted shrubbery that Pops and I were beginning to clear.

Never reclaimed, happily the container and the windbreaks remain on site and I have, so far resisted the temptation to rotovate the ground, even though several people have suggested it.  Rotovation would chop up all the couch grass roots and from each would spring a new plant. I do not want to repeat this process of extraction so instead I am using the five step knife and fork method:

  1. plunge garden fork deep into earth,
  2. heave soily clod upside down,
  3. bash soil off clod,
  4. toss root and grass thatch into old wheel barrow
  5. barrow to general compost heap

The knife is for cutting through the stubborn roots that the fork, short of breaking it, simply will not shift.

Frequently as I repeat this process, the fork makes a nasty scraping noise, and, looking down I see something flat and shiny in the claggy soil, a shard of glass glinting in the daylight. It is a small piece of greenhouse. I do not toss this into the barrow but into an old plastic sack. I now have two sacks full and, with three quarters of the plot still to dig I fully anticipate finding the rest of it before I’m done. Who knows, I might even be able to stick it all back together?

Last week Jack and Jill kindly gave me three raspberry canes. Perhaps eating the same fruit three times a day was just too much? From my point of view, from a glassless soil, I hope to experience such fruity excesses in this my first year as an Allotmenteer.

Foot note

Someone has just offered me a greenhouse!

Next time, Sarah goes in search of the perfect shed.


Photos: Sarah Nelson

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