Can you dig it?

My parents-in-law recently got an allotment. I'm not sure if that's a universal concept so here's a wee definition from

"In the UK, allotments are small parcels of land rented to individuals usually for the purpose of growing food crops."

(See also Wikipedia for difference between an allotment and a community garden)

They put themselves on the waiting list about a year ago as they don't really have space for veggies in their own garden. Finally their number came up, and it turned out to be one big mofo of an allotment so there's plenty of room for Gareth and me to join in. We've always wanted pumpkins but don't have the space to give them a proper go – remember the micro pumpkins of 2009? I hope to grow a shitload of kale too.

But first, we must dig. The plot is absolutely choked with weeds. Layer upon tangled layer of weeds, about a foot deep. Like a giant stinky weed trifle. With occasional wooden planks, old potatoes, plastic bags and a 6-foot piece of guttering thrown in for flavour.

Edit: I totally want to try a kill mulch to snuff out the weeds, as suggested by the lovely Debbi!

I think it's going to be the ultimate metaphor. For lard-busting. For life.

It takes ages. It feels like you're getting nowhere. Just when you finish one bit you turn around and see metres and metres of un-dug space and you want to cry.

Some days you are in love with it. The pissweak November sun warming your brow; the promise of a sandwich at noon.

Some days you hate it with a passion. Surely we'll be done soon? It's only been twenty minutes.

Some days while you're wrestling with a particularly stubborn weed, some smart arse will shove a pile of grass down the back of your jeans.

Some days you can't stop smiling from the simple pleasure of hanging out with loved ones. Some days everyone gets on your nerves ("Can I just make a small suggestion?") and you long to whack them over the head with your garden fork.

But then you remember it needs time. And consistency. And there is pleasure to be had in the process. Just gotta keep on diggin'.


42 thoughts on “Can you dig it?

  1. Oh do keep us posted on this – I’m sure once all your wonderful veggies start growing you’ll feel like it was all worth it. I only have a backyard but would love to grow my own veg, so am planning on turning my parents’ unused garden into my personal veg patch at some point. Only – the digging bit is putting me off starting!

  2. that is a lot of weeds (but such a great picture!).

    I can see this would be a lot of family fun and a great project. Looking forward to hearing all about it.

    curious how much the rent is on a garden.

    you are right, this is a foreign concept (the rent part) here. But community gardens are very common.

    they sprout up on vacant lots in large cities. Or they will pop up in all kinds of places even in the country side.

    An acre or two with different sections for people who do not have them in their yard.

    Nursing/retirement homes (the apartment kind where the people are still very mobile) have them in the back of their property.

    Schools have them on their grounds.

    I live in the midst of Amish farms and they all have huge kitchen gardens.

    can you get someone in with a machine to give it a proper TILL?

    You are going to need to put tarp or something between plants to keep the weeds away. Spoken from someone who knows – when all the bigger weeds are pulled out, all the broken roots and dropped weed seeds are going to sprout like crazy as they will have room and sunshine.

  3. @Vickie – Thanks for your advice! The rent is something ridiculously cheap like Β£15 a year! πŸ™‚

    Here’s a wikipedia link re the difference between allotments and community gardens –

    The weeds are so thick and deep down that there needs to be basic clearing of volume of crap first. Think it’s been negelected for quite awhile.

    I think the best way to describe it is kinda like a knotted weed carpet! We decided against machines so we’re not just grinding up the weeds and putting them right back in.

  4. I’ve been hitting the gym regularly for four months now, but I’m still not strong enough (brave enough) to conquer our garden. It is simply back-breaking. Superb exercise AND you’re working toward having freshly-grown kale? Plus a built-in metaphor for the constant care and tending you have to give a healthy lifestyle? Congrats!

  5. ooo lucky you, after watching the allotment Movie ‘Grow you own’ I’ve wanted to get one – I’m not a big fan of gardening but I like the community idea behind it!

    I love the analogy…I’m got to keep saying to myself time & consistency to see results.

    Can’t wait to see progress pics of this one!

  6. I don’t mind weeding once in a while, but the weeds keep coming back!

    So I decided the thing to do was raise dandelions. They are actually good for you.

    Moral: if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em. (Why does that sound slightly naughty? Didn’t mean it to be.)

  7. wow…can’t you mow it down and rent a tiller for a day to turn it all under real good? I grown about a 1/2 acre of garden every year and I don’t think I’d even try it if I didn’t have a strong tiller!

    You are wonder woman.

  8. @Dana – Alas it’s beyond the capability of our mower!

    @Merry – mwahaha nice one! time for dandelion tea?

    @Andie – hey thanks! πŸ™‚

    @Mandy – I’d not heard of that movie, I’ll need to check it out!

  9. OR … instead of digging all those weeds, you could put cardboard on top of them. soak it well, cover it with compost/straw/dead leaves and let it sit until spring. All you should have to do then is turn it over with a shovel and plant.

    I’m creating an herb bed in my front lawn by doing this. It’s called a kill mulch. I took care of a very weedy asparagus bed by smothering the weeds with cardboard and covering the whole thing with dead leaves.

    Here’s a link to the article that inspired me:

  10. Oooh, do you need the help from a willing local-ish volunteer who wants to lose some weight and find new and interesting ways to burn kcals?? πŸ™‚

  11. What an awesome idea! Sounds like a great thing all around – family bonding, muscles to dig out weeds, growing your own fruit and veg..! I like Debbie’s idea of smothering the weeds until spring…very smart!

    We’ll need regular updates (with photos) on the allotment and all of the cool things that will be growing!

  12. That sounds really fun. My boyfriend and I decided to get gardening in our backyard a little while back…unfortunately it turns out that plants are a little more complicated than we’d anticipated. They either lived or died according to some random factors that seemed to have nothing to do with how much we watered them or what sort of soil we planted them.

    Anyways, keep us updated. I expect to see pictures of your beautiful pumpkin patch!

  13. Sounds like a long term , one step at a time , process that will be hard work but well worth the effort … Good metaphor for a healthier lifestyle too ! You are inspirational ….if you can dig in Scotland in November, I should get into it in Tassie. X ps suggested to mrs Sufferfest her hubby should produce a video called Sufferfest for wuzzies but I won’t hold my breath.

  14. Ahh lucky you!! Looks like flipping hard work, but that kale is going to taste sweeter than any kale ever has done before. Awesome.

    Oh and I just got a copy of your book finally, I’ve only read the first wee bit but already I have shed a tear…there’s so much there I relate to!

  15. Awesome! We had an allotment in York and it was great! (apart from a certain amount of allotment wars over the neighbours passion for chemical weedkiller and insecticides).
    Are you allowed to build boxes? We have vege boxes, large ones, that are covered with a sort of ‘tent’. This means veges grow also through winter and you don’t get so many bugs. Also, much easier on the bod when weeding and so on. Kale grows especially well in the boxes, as do all leafy greens. Root veges don’t. They need to be in the hard ground and like it a bit cooler. Looking forward to your gardening adventures.

  16. I love this.
    -the whole metaphor
    -grass down your pants
    -walk them over their head with a garden fork.

    Loved hearing your trash talk…Gosh I miss you.

  17. Let us know if you find a body buried in there πŸ™‚

    I love pumpkin flavored anything: latte, pie, ice cream, and even fudge. (Got some in San Fran!) But I absolutely hate cutting up a pumpkin to use in cooking. I’m lazy and just buy the filling.

  18. ‘stinky weed trifle’ is best. image. EVER. thank you. i may start calling my piles of messy laundry ‘stinky clothes trifle’. or i could call all the thoughts in my head before i get them sorted and write them down ‘stinky thoughts trifle’. this is going to go far!

  19. Wonderful news about the allotment. So much fun to garden.

    The weed/kill/mulch is also called a lasagna bed if you want to look up more information. It is a great way to deal with land that hasn’t been a garden for a while (or ever).

    The Allotment/community garden difference in wikipedia doesn’t hold in the US. Community gardens can also be split into individual lots (I know, I had one πŸ˜‰

  20. @Nicole – LASGANA BED! Love that! More googling to do πŸ™‚

    @Sara – That sounds great, anything to get those greens happening!

  21. I absolutely agree about getting as much of the weeds up (by hand) as you can, but then I think I would suggest getting a machine in to REALLY turn it up after that. Deep and really break up the soil. And then going back with hand rakes and finding as much of the buried root fragments as you can.

  22. Our current house was a deep woods. Bird and Squirrel and chipmunk, etc paradise. They brought in tons and tons of seeds in one form or the other – carried it in, buried it, pooped it.

    When we cleared part of the trees, and sunlight was introduced, all those seeds sprouted.

    You will have the same issue – the buried under the weeds stuff will sprout.

    Weeds were a huge issue. We have some areas we spray (we keep them empty). We have other areas (where there are plantings and we can’t spray) where we use tarp. The tarp is heavy duty and held down with spikes, but does not have plastic backing so water can get through. We are always very careful to remove seeds from anything that sneaks up where it is not supposed to be. There are some very stuborn things (like poison ivy) that I use full concentrate poison dose and then put in a clear plastic bag tent so it dies to the tip of the root without touching anything else.

  23. Very timely post Shauna- Russ and I just plotted out a garden in our yard for next spring…neither of us have ever done it before so it’s going to be “interesting”. Also I hate bugs. And heat. But I want to grow our own veg so….it’ll be an interesting experiment (kind of like the running!) xx

  24. I left this comment before, but it didn’t appear to take – trying again.

    I absolutely agree to dig as much up by hand as you can – this will get rid of as many seeds and plant parts as possible. you are absolutely right that if machine chops it up and mixes it up with dirt – will just grow more.

    I am wondering if you should remove it all by hand and then have machine come in and do very deep dig, loosening. Because then you could go back in with hand rakes and get up as much of the left over roots as possible.

  25. I wish I could love gardening…but there’s something about the way dirt feels on my hands that makes me shiver. So I figure I can reward those who do love gardening by buying their produce. And I am lucky enough to have access to a couple of organizations that make it easy to buy local!

    Can’t wait to read more about your Allotment Adventures!

  26. I don’t have a green thumb, but I do keep trying. Out of 5 years of planting gardens, the only thing I could get to grow are chives. I have lots of chives!

  27. Love it and your metaphors/parables, Shauny!

    Like the sound of that cardboard weed blanket. If you asked my father, he’d suggest you set fire to the weeds. One of my earliest memories seeing the front yard aflame. Happily, you will not be asking my father!

  28. You’re going to need to get a stall at the local market day to sell all of the lovely veg you’ll get from that great huge garden – can’t wait for pictures. And samples on our road trip next summer!!!

  29. Ha ha the year before last I tried to do some vegetable growing, when I had a yard. I was bad at watering, and planted the gro-bags a little haphazardly. I planted tomatoes, courgettes, aubergine, wild strawberries, potatoes I forget what else. My potatoes were crusty and I harvested them too soon so too small, lots of things didn’t work and I didn’t notice the strawberries until they were almost gone. I ate one titchy strawberry and the one tomato which grew, and felt a complete failure.

  30. Oohhh how wonderful!!! Bet tasting all the fresh veg will make it all worthwhile πŸ˜€ cavolo nero is the best kale weeee! Have fun digging in the dirt, it’s good for the soul πŸ™‚

  31. My mum tells me about weeds and gardening “one year’s seeding, seven years weeding” so you gotta be in it for the long haul for sure! And you can also eat those weeds…

  32. LOVED you posted this and your sharing about it on the podcast.
    I swear in my misfit brains theres a fiction book here too.
    on the surface it’s all calm and about the digging πŸ™‚ underneath it’s a festering pool of intrigue and sex.
    yes ma’am
    I said it.
    the sex πŸ™‚

  33. Your weeds are NOTHING compared to our garden BUT….you are actually doing something about them!! Well done – now I really need to get out there and DIG!!

  34. Random thoughts:
    1. I can’t hear “allotment” without thinking of “The Good Life”- you’ll be driving the tiller to the pub next!


    3. What about a goat? I had a friend who lived near a rocky, weedy embankment. There was a man in town who had- I’m not joking- “Walter the rent-a-goat” for “mowing” purposes. At least the weeds would be shorter and easier to turn under…

    4. This comment is a week late, so you’ll probably never see it- but ROCK ON!

  35. What a great idea to be allocated a plot of land. I wish we did that here in Oz. There are some community gardens around the place but I think I’d like all the effort and reward.

    My wife and I are considering the paleo diet and one thing they mention a lot is lovely organic (and home grown if possible) veges.

    I’m envious. Enjoy the fruits of your labour


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