Newbie allotment plot holder here in the North East, planting out weeds and pulling up flowers. I very gratefully got that phone call about an empty allotment in February of this year, and haven’t looked back since.
Figured out this week that the weed scattered across my plot that I’ve been pulling out for the last six weeks, is actually a flower. Turns out if I’d let it be, I’d now have a path full of colour. It gets worse. I also discovered that a tray of seedlings I’ve been nurturing and watering daily (at home in a small pop-up greenhouse), are indeed the same flower. In one place a flower, the other a weed.
What even is a weed? Well according to my allotment neighbours - definitely dandelions. I used to see dandelions and buttercups as a carpet of colour, and would daydream on the morning bus commute to patches of gold amongst city buildings and traffic jams. Bees and butterflies, dandelion wishes and signs of summer. Once you get an allotment, dandelions are like those website cookie pop-ups: as soon as you get rid of one, another appears in a different corner. Buttercups once signalling my childhood likeness of butter - are now an indication of laziness and slothful neighbouring. It sounds dramatic, but I really have had dreams about how to get rid of them.
The trick with dandelions - road salt apparently. Although my time-saving jar of tricks is growing, sometimes all I want is an angry allotmenting hour. This is usually following an overheard comment along the lines of ‘she is a lass though, what do you expect?’ or something similarly derogatory. Filled with frustration I aggressively water, sow seeds and pull rhubarb - determined to prove them wrong and make this allotment the most colourful and outrageous that I can. When returning calmer, yes you guessed it - I harvest five strawberries and the dandelions are back.
My measly five strawberries look pathetic next to my neighbours’ rows and rows of them. No cream or champagne for me, but a delicious after beans-on-toast treat. I’m surprised they even made it home. Most the time, anything easily edible including my favourite sugar snap peas don’t stay long off the stem. Surely that’s the best part of growing fruit and veg? Spending money and months nurturing a tiny fleck of green, to then eat it’s fruits in less than five seconds.
I’m glad that rhubarb can’t be eaten as is and so easily, it forces a patience that’s helpful. Question: What should you do with rhubarb leaves? One allotment neighbour told me the leaves can be toxic if ingested so adding with materials to spread over your freshly dug veg patch, is questionable especially when someone like me eats directly from it. Following this nugget, I collected a bin full of rhubarb leaves totally unsure what to do with them. My instinct and ageing books followed by a quick Google search confirm you absolutely can chuck them on the compost heap. A natural assumption.
I try to celebrate the occasional successes and laugh at the regular failures. I quickly learnt to have a permanent shed first aid kit, shelved next to the important biscuits and hot chocolate. I’ve researched, saved and dug foundations for a new Polytunnel, and then bust a big hole in the plastic when pulling over the roof. I’ll also have a tremendous amount of onions to harvest this year, over estimating my need drastically. However on my recent exit; posted on the side of a shed, I learnt about an excellent local scheme that redistributes surplus food from allotments to those locally via the local food bank. I’m so pleased to be able to share produce like this, and hope this is an initiative (together with my many surplus onions) that can spread throughout the North East.