I recently bought a rotovator with the intention of making my life easier when it came to digging fertiliser into my allotment. Since Autumn, I’ve dug the allotment over and tilled by hand with a hoe. My allotment looks great at the moment but I now have some serious aches and pains. Being a 56 year old arthritic (mild but painful), I needed to think of another way to get the job done, hence the rotovator.
After a lot of research, mostly on YouTube, I bought a two stoke Mantis tiller which cost just £50 on ebay. I also viewed a lot of allotment videos on YouTube and discovered permaculture, a no dig method which makes a lot of sense to me. You see, after nearly eight years on my allotment, I still haven’t figured out exactly how it’s done and while I can grow vegetables, it’s a very hit and miss affair. Permaculture puts compost (humus) at the top of the list of priorities and I can understand completely how this approach can work consistently.
The best growers on our allotment site have always used a lot of compost. Pallets of the stuff are delivered in January/February or they’re constantly taking bags of the stuff out of the backs of their cars. For me, buying compost has always been a limiting factor. I simply don’t have the funds to spend £200 or more on compost every year. But, the reality is that without a constant supply of feed your soil (like mine) will be unproductive and yields will be inconsistent and mostly disappointing.
The first video on permaculture that I watched was “Soil” by Geoff Lawton. In this video, Geoff shows how to produce your own compost using a ratio of 25:1 Carbon to Nitrogen. I’ve never used a hot composting method and was stunned to learn that 1 cubic metre of waste product can produce 1 cubic metre of humus compost in just 18 days. If that one fact doesn’t blow you away, nothing will. Simply put, I have 17 growing beds on my allotment. Each measures 4.5 metres by 0.42 metres. So, each bed is 1.89 square metres and if I want to add a covering of 20cm of compost to each bed, that’s a grand total of around 6,500 litres of compost per year. At around £4 per 70 litre bag, that’s £372 per year I need to spend on compost. I haven’t calculated for planting seeds or potting on. I also haven’t included changing the compost for quick growing crops like salad leaves, radishes etc, which can yield up to 4 harvests per season. If you’re having trouble growing things on your allotment maybe you (like me) are not using anywhere near enough compost.
Two weeks ago, after having watched Geoff’s video, I approached a relative who keeps horses and loaded my small hatchback with spent straw, horse manure and hay. I also brew beer regularly so I always have spent grains and hops. I also make a habit of collecting used teabags and egg shells from my flock. I took all these ingredients to my allotment and built a compost heap using a thick layer of carbon (straw etc.), then a thin layer of nitrogen (horse manure etc.). I built a 1 cubic metre heap (the minimum recommended size) and turned it after four days. The heap was steaming and looking good. I then got ill and haven’t been on the allotment for two weeks, so all my hard work will have gone to waste now. The point is that I now feel confident that I can produce up to 180 bags of great compost a year for very little outlay. What was totally out of reach financially is now actually possible. I have now realised that the most important part of my allotment is the area where I produce compost. So, I’ve allocated a space big enough for 2 heaps with space at the side of each for regular turning.
I’m getting over my illness and hope to get back to compost production shortly. I’ll keep you posted, meanwhile, please check out my YouTube channel.