With the site clearance well underway, the next step is how I’m actually going to grow the ingredients I need. With the help of my friend Mike I’ve marked out the growing areas and managed to clear the turf off the top – the beds aren’t ready by any stretch of the imagination but at least they are beds now.

Toby Buckland and Ben Richards - Growing BeerOnto the first challenge of the week – get my head around the gardening basics. Luckily this is where the first of my friendly experts, Toby Buckland, comes in. He has years of experience presenting radio and TV gardening programmes, writing books and publications and runs his own garden centre and festivals here in Devon. He’s also a very nice guy, and offered to visit the allotment to give me a few tips on the best way to get started.

This though, gave me my second challenge of the week – holding and recording the interviews. The podcast is going to be the main way to understand and follow my journey, so it’s important that I get it right. As well as making sure that you’re going to find the 30 minutes interesting I also need to make sure that you can hear it properly! I’m not sure if I know less about gardening or recording audio, so it seemed an ideal time to give both a try. As Toby led me through the basics of understanding soil, seed nutrition and growing plants 101, I got to grips with my portable sound recorder and microphones, all the while fearing a gust of wind or the accidental tapping of a microphone cable. I have a new found respect for both allotment gardeners and sound engineers, but as I’m now into the editing, with the first interview done, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year.

You’ll just have to wait until August to find out how it went, but I think it’s worth the wait…

Next week I’ll be tackling the essential accompaniment to any allotment – the shed.

growing beer, allotment, brewingAnd so it begins – I’ve got this year to grow or gather the raw ingredients needed and then process, prepare and brew them into the finished beer. I’m really excited about seeing what I can produce, meeting the people that grow and use the ingredients and finding out more about how they do it.
Before I can even think about planting, growing or brewing though, I’ve got to get my allotment cleared. I took it on in quite a mess; it hasn’t been productive for quite a few years, is strewn with rubbish and around half has reverted to turf and well established weeds. The first week has been a frenzy of hacking, cutting and digging to get it into something that resembles a productive plot, so far turning up a smörgåsbord of rubbish:
  • 40m2 of rotting carpet
  • Enough broken glass to fill a small barrel
  • 4 broken water butts
  • 1 broken 1000l water container
  • 2 rubbish filled oil drums
  • 3 gas canisters
  • Several rotten pallets
  • Around 20 refuse sacks (buried)
  • A 3m wooden beam (buried)
  • Several cast iron wheels (buried)
  • Enough plastic rubbish to fill one of the above water butts
Once the waste was cleared from the beds I could then turn my attention to cutting back and digging out the weeds that are, to say the least, established. I had no idea that nettles grew so quickly, thickly and spread their roots so far. I’ve been stung so much that I barely notice them now, whilst I’m seriously considering testing out my new-found immunity at the local World Nettle Eating Championships later this year.

It’s been a very tiring week. By my estimate I’ve removed over a mile of roots and runners, the 20 sacks of weeds and turf weigh in at over 300kg and I’ve removed enough rubbish to fill a small skip. It’s a shame when people don’t leave things in a good condition for those following after them, or treat natural spaces like a tip. It’s not all bad though, as I can return one of the gas canisters for £7.50. Result.

Next week I’m very lucky to be welcoming TV gardener Toby Buckland to offer me some help and advice on how to get the most out of my allotment.

Be thankful that you can’t smell this water – 1000 litres of it in all.
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