Thursday, 8 March 2007

Grand Designs...

I've been busy planning...
My plot is approximately 60x20ft; a strip orientated roughly north-south, with winds coming mostly from the west. The site is fairly exposed so there are no great problems with shade except from my own tall crops or those that might pop up in neighbouring allotments. (I'm not sure yet what the etiquette is on casting shadows on other people's crops, but I don't think much could be done about it so I'll ignore the possibility for now.) It's not practical to bunch all the taller crops up one end to expose shorter crops to the south, so I'll put the tall crops on the west instead - at least that way everything will get the morning sun, which we seem to have more of anyway. Of course, it'll leave the tall crops at the mercy of the westerly winds, so I'll have to make sure they are well anchored!

I have divided the plot into 14 8x9ft miniplots, as shown, with three 1ft paths for access and a 1ft herb border running lengthways between the two rows of plots. This covers 59x19ft, so there should be room for borders round the outside edges as well.
These borders are key to my design; I want to give companion planting the best shot I can - it seems like the most sensible and natural method of pest control there is! So the borders will be filled with plants to attract beneficial wildlife and distract or deter pests.
The two northernmost miniplots will be become one and accomodate compost bins, storage, a comfrey bed (to feed the compost and make liquid fertiliser), plus a permanent asparagus bed, a nursery bed for seedlings and, if there's enough space, a blackcurrant bush and some raspberries! I hope this is enough room for the asparagus; one author wrote that he had nine plants in a 4x4ft bed and it produced more than enough for him and his wife, but I have read elsewhere that asparagus needs up to a metre per plant! Guess I'll have to suck it and see (like so many things!)
I am keen to have a pond, to encourage slug-eating frogs and toads, so this will go in plot 4, in the middle, along with some permanent wildlife-attracting plants and some piles of rocks and/or logs to house said wildlife over winter. It would be nice to have somewhere to sit in this wildlife area, if there's room, and I might plant some dwarf fruit trees there too (upright 'minarette' cordons). Originally I was going to scatter the plot with fruit trees so they didn't cast too much shade clumped together, but apparently potatoes don't like to grow near them (or is it vice versa?), so if I keep them grouped together it'll be easier to keep the potatoes separate as crop rotation progresses. It'll also be easier to protect them if I have a problem with birds.
That leaves eleven miniplots for my annual crops:
POTATOES. I've never grown potatoes before and don't know really what kind of yield to expect or how much space they will need, but we don't eat many potatoes anyway so this year they get only plot 3. I'll grow horseradish in the corners of the plot as it is supposed to deter potato-pests and even make the potatoes more resistant to disease.
SWEETCORN is another new one for me. 35 seeds in a pack at 1ft spacings take up just 5x7ft, so in the remaining space I'll try to grow some sweet potatoes; they'll be well sheltered from the wind by the sweetcorn, although the sweetcorn itself may need some support but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. These two will go in plot 2 and preced potatoes in my rotation (the deep roots should help to break up the soil in preparation for the spuds). I'm not too sure about following sweet potatoes with 'normal' potatoes, but I don't believe they're in the same family; I read something recently that implied that sweet potatoes were actually artichokes. Does anybody know? I can but try...
LEGUMES traditionally follow potatoes so this is what I'll do, planting them in plot 5 along with coriander to deter aphids, marigolds to distract the slugs and snails, and borage to attract pollinating bees. I'll have to support my beans and peas well as they'll get a lot of wind.
BRASSICAS follow beans in plot 6 - they love the nitrogen-rich soil legumes leave behind. We love broccoli so there will be plenty of that, but brassicas are probably the best thing for winter-hardy greens, so we should grow cauliflowers, winter kale, spring cabbage and brussels sprouts for when all the broccoli, tomatoes, courgettes and french beans are just a distant memory. Add turnips (which I'm dying to try) and swedes (which I love) and that's a lot of space needed, so I've allocated plot 10 to brassicas as well. In my garden last year I had great trouble with cabbage butterflies on my sprouts, so I will scatter celery plants throughout the brassica plots to deter them, and marigolds to help deal with the slugs.
TOMATOES will go in plot 12 next to the asparagus, as they're said to encourage each other (though rotation means they can't stay there every year!). Peppers, aubergines and chillies can grow here too as they're all in the same family, and I'll line the rows with beneficial basil, parsley, marigolds and garlic.
CARROTS AND ONIONS like to grow together; carrots repel onion fly and onions repel carrot fly, so it's the perfect combination. Plot 11 will hold rows of white and red onions, carrits, leeks and parsnips.
STRAWBERRIES will fill plot 9; I've ordered a bargain 'long season' pack; 18 plants of three different varieties to last the whole summer long. This gives me room to spread the rows out a bit more than in other plots, so marigolds and lettuces can fill in the gaps. Strawberries last two or three years, so other crops will have to rotate around them until it's time for new plants.
LEAFY VEG such as spinach, swiss chard, lettuce and other salad leaves can grow together in rows in plot 8, with marigolds (again) to distract slugs and snails, and coriander to put aphids off. I'll include spring onions here too, but I must remember if I plant rocket that it is a brassica, and should go with the cabbages.
CURCUBITS will fill the remaining two plots - 1 and 7 - as they need so much room. I'll put tall climbing plants (cucumbers and trained squashes and melons) in westerly plot 1, and low-growing courgettes and pumpkins in plot 7 to avoid their shade for as much of the day as possible. I'll underplant the whole lot with nasturtiums, which are supposed to protect them from squash bugs and also distract slugs and snails, and radishes which also protect against squash borers. Annoyingly, I've read cucumbers don't like to grow close to aromatic herbs, so here my herb borders could be a bit of a problem. I'm not doing away with them just for the sake of one crop, so I'll see if it helps to surround the cucumbers with other squashes to distance them a bit. Who knows...?

So that's the plan. A little ambitious perhaps, but there's no harm in trying. I get the feeling once everything's in it'll look a bit crowded compared to most allotments but that's how I want it; a busy garden rather than a highly organised farm! I just hope the soil is up to it; I'll have to take good care of it. Starting by clearing the rest of those weeds...

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