Tuesday 24 March 2015

The plot thickens - more space, new greenhouse

For the first time in my gardening life, I have a proper greenhouse. It's in reasonably good condition: a few panes need replacing and the beds inside need digging over and fresh soil. It's in a sunny position, aligned north-to-south as recommended for summer crops and I'm looking forward to raising aubergines, physalis, and I hope this year's pepinos dulces (Solanum muricatum, or melon pear).

The catch is that the greenhouse comes with 10 poles of abandoned allotment attached. Overrun with couch grass, bramble, bindweed and creeping trefoil, a preliminary recce has revealed that there are the remnants of raised beds underneath all this. It's a bit like I imagine archaeology to be: peeling away layers of cultivation. I think we have dug down to the 1980s so far.

Renovating the greenhouse and clearing the plot will have to be done in tandem. There are brambles and creeping trefoil roots rubbing up against the greenhouse frame and these will need to be taken out or else they will engulf the structure over the course of the summer.

After cutting down a bramble thicket out in the main area of the plot, I have abandoned plan A, which was to strim the plot then dig it over. I reckon it would break the strimmer. Instead, we (that's me and my son, who insists on being paid extra pocket money for this manual labour) have cut down the brambles, pulled up as much grass as will easily come away, and piled them all on to a bonfire, along with any rotting wooden raised-bed edgers we've found along the way.

We are building up a mighty pile of posts, stakes and even an old discarded radiator for the scrap metal merchant and an even taller pile of plastic for the skip. And starting one area at a time, we will cover the plot with woven black plastic. I've reserved one old bed that looks as though it was cultivated more recently than others to dig out and use this year, and I will almost certainly build a keyhole garden (full-sized, this time!) as a quick and efficient raised bed. Those and the greenhouse will do for this year. Everything else can wait.

By autumn, we can lift the plastic and get a much better idea of what we're dealing with, ready to hack out the perennial roots and hopefully start a no-dig system.

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