Pathfinders

Tim Young - 10 March 2011

Well, it didn’t rain at the weekend, and we finally made it down to the allotment on Sunday morning, with both boys in tow, and a boot load of bark chip mulch. The aim of the day was to peel back the plastic covers, and lay out a series of beds and pathways.

The total plot is about 6m wide by around 18-20m long, but the first three or four metres house a shed, a compost heap, and a gooseberry bush, and we’ve got it earmarked as an area for seating and a sandpit for the kids. Of the rest of it we got about 9 meters worth covered and dug last year, and our plan is to turn that space into a series of beds with paths between each, and down the middle (see the plan below), and start with a six bed rotation this year. The bottom end of the site we’re putting off until summer/next year, but will have room for fruit, comfrey and possibly a tree. It’s a great plan on paper – we’ve now got to get on and lay it out in practice.

Without any sun, Sunday was a cold morning, and Theo was obviously suspicious about getting out of the car when we arrived. We managed to tempt him out with the new spade that we’d bought the day before to try and prevent him stealing his older brother's. Forgetting of course that said older brother would immediately fixate on the new spade and attempt to claim it as his own – ‘It’s not fair, I want it,’ ‘But you’ve got your own spade already.’ ‘But, Theo’s one is new, and it’s not a spade it’s a shovel.’ ‘It’s a spade.’ ‘No, it’s a shovel and I want it. . . <grabs spade from Theo> Theo starts to cry. Spade is returned to Theo. Lucas starts to cry.

After getting over that trauma, me and Charlie set to work uncovering the first section of earth. This lasted about five minutes until Theo decided it was too cold anyway, and that crying was his best bet. Meanwhile Lucas started digging random holes in the beds, filling his wheelbarrow with earth and then depositing it at random elsewhere. Having asked him (rather forcibly, and in no uncertain terms if I’m honest) to stop, I was about to start explaining the importance of leaving the earth undisturbed to encourage and protect the all important mycorrhizal fungi, when Charlie shot me a look that said ‘I have one small child crying already, please don’t make it two’ and instead encouraged Lucas to help us with the paths. It was a good point, well made, and to be fair he joined in enthusiastically.

In the end we got the first bit of path around beds one and two finished before we ran out of mulch and succumbed to our children’s need to eat lunch, and although it was slightly slow progress, we both felt encouraged that we’ll be able to get the beds finished in time to plant stuff later this month or in April.

We may well be deluding ourselves.

Tim is editor of the Soil Association's Living Earth magazine, and has written on food, health and consumer issues for the last ten years. When not at work Tim is normally being run ragged by his two young sons. In 2009 Tim started trying to grow vegetables, and last year he took on an allotment. Two years later he is still trying to grow vegetables, and is very hopeful that one day soon he will have some success.

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