Growing with the seasons

PUBLISHED: 14:52 21 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:27 20 February 2013

Growing with the seasons

Growing with the seasons

Meet Russell Butcher and his family at their plot in Langton Green. Share in their ups and downs in their quest for growing fabulous fresh food in this new four-part series following a year in the life of an allotment

Growing with the seasons

Meet Russell Butcher and his family at their plot in Langton Green. Share in their ups and downs in their quest for growing fabulous fresh food in this new four-part series following a year in the life of an allotment

A love of the outdoors and a preference for growing their own food rather than using a supermarket, led the Butcher family to join the growing ranks of allotment holders across the country.Louize, Russell and children, Chloe, aged 11 and Cameron, nine, have taken up the challenges of the process with enthusiasm.

Louizes parents still grow certain fruit and veg in their garden and when her Dad had a plot at an allotment, I am told his peas were legendary! says Russell.

When Louize saw a sign advertising the new plots here at Langton Green two years ago, it was something that we all found interesting. We applied, as there was no waiting list now there is a long list as allotments have become trendy in the economic climate.

From the beginning it has been a family experience, with Russell and Louize keen that the children also spend time on the allotment, learning about how food is grown and sharing in some of the planting decisions.

We very much aim to supply the family and the children love working at the allotment, seeing things grow and eating them, says Russell. Through winter I tend to go to the allotment at least three times a week, Louize possibly fortnightly and the children at weekends to give me a hand. Their input is very important and I ask them what to grow or not to grow.

Both dislike weeding and I made the mistake of offering them 5p a weed, which cost me 4! It is also good exercise walking to the allotment and gets the children away from television, games consoles, etc. Both are very proud of their produce and like to share with both sets of grandparents.

The fenced plot has Kent clay-based soil with a healthy covering of top soil. Although it drains well, Russsell has added lighter sandy soil to improve drainage further. There are fine, far-reaching views towards Crowborough, Heathfield and Sussex to enjoy while resting on a spade.

As we are new to this, we are learning from our mistakes. We decided initially what to grow from guidance from both our parents and we have taught ourselves much from our allotment. Some seeds have come from Louizes mother who is very good at collecting vouchers from the papers to get free seeds of unusual varieties, such as bush tomatoes, explains Russell. Gleaning advice from other plot holders and browsing the internet has also helped along the way.

Weve planted two peaches, four kiwi, blueberry and a fig tree donated by my father

Difficulties have come from pests such as caterpillars as the allotments are organic so sprays must be environmentally friendly. We love to grow chillies in the cold frame and fruiting varieties such as the plum.

We always want to be that bit different and have now planted two peaches, four kiwi, blueberry and a fig tree donated by my father, which he successfully grows in Crowborough. Growing corn on the cob has been fun, which both children love with melted butter, adds Russell.

Most of the vegetables are grown in neat raised beds, the fruit trees in an open area and there is a small covered cold frame and compost bin. Using raised beds has advantages such as easier maintenance, the formation of semi-permanent paths between, it allows the plot to be broken down into manageable areas and makes it easier to get crop rotation going.

January jobs in the allotment

Winter is an ideal time to catch up on jobs and plan for the year. Protection from the elements by covering crops, ensuring fences have no gaps, digging and clearing are the main tasks.

In these initial early months, the plot is in a state of almost hibernation, says Russell. I prepare and turn over the soil, adding manure and compost, allowing the frost to break down the soil. I will also plant late garlic; a neighbouring allotment holder put us onto the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight, with Solent Wight, a softneck garlic that is stunning and with an excellent flavour.

The winter harvest includes cabbages, brussel sprouts and kale.Louize also enjoys making warming soups from their stored autumn harvest of butternut squash. This winter hearty stews will be added to the menu, also using their frozen runner beans.

We have frozen rhubarb, along with our excellent blackberries gathered from the bottom of our allotment, again frozen, which Louize makes delicious crumbles with. We have also picked sloe fruit to make sloe gin a potent drink that my mother has given me the recipe for, smiles Russell.

When we revisit the Butcher family it will be the busy time of spring on the allotment, the start of the main sowing season.

Russells budget-busting ideas

  • Keep vegetable waste for composting

  • Try to walk rather than use the car

  • Keep seeds from successful produce rather than buying

  • Store equipment correctly eg rather than let bamboo canes rot, they can be reused the following season

  • Ensure any produce left in the ground can drain correctly in this wet season this can be as simple as creating some ditches using a spade. These areas can easily be identified in winter as the water will pool and collect, leaving any growing plants or trees subject to rotting of their root systems

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