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Edward Griffiths visits Prospect Allotments in Swanage, Dorset

PUBLISHED: 16:13 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:54 20 February 2013

Prepare ground for sowing and planting. Roy Scott here follows his own advice

Prepare ground for sowing and planting. Roy Scott here follows his own advice

In his series in which he meets the people who 'grow their own' on the county's allotments, Edward Griffiths visits Prospect Allotments in Swanage

In his series in which he meets the people who 'grow their own' on the county's allotments, Edward Griffiths visits Prospect Allotments in Swanage

The popular seaside town of Swanage is always buzzing with visitors, yet this month's allotments are so peaceful they could be on another planet. At Prospect Allotments, everybody is quietly preparing for another year of horticultural trials, tribulations and triumphs.

Prospect Allotments is owned by Swanage Town Council. Currently there are 124 plots, but with 80 people on the waiting list, some plots are being divided into two or three when they become vacant. Including a water supply, the annual rate is 5.15 per square rod, and the average plot size is 10 square rods. The old measurements are still used and, for the uninitiated, a rod is 51/2 yards. Now, I have to tell you, or rather Allotment Chairman Rod Legg would like to say, "Don't believe what you see on the telly. The long waiting list is partly down to how some gardening programmes show allotments. It's not really that easy. Allotments are unforgiving. You need to spend two or three hours a day on your plot, five days a week."

It's very windy and dry on Prospect Allotments' higher ground, but more sheltered and damp at the bottom. The soil itself is slightly acidic Wealden clay, enriched over many years with natural fertilisers and compost. The plot-holders cover most of their crops with netting as protection from a whole catalogue of predators including sika deer who are a recent problem, rabbits, hares, badgers from long-established cliff setts, pigeons, moles and rooks. Other problems include cabbage white butterfly caterpillars, and sea mists which promote blight on potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins and squashes.

The highest plot is maintained by Eric Martin who started 15 years ago by piling on barrow-loads of Swanage seaweed. Being a flat-dweller, Eric uses his allotment as a combination vegetable plot and garden. With a delightful patio, the best view, neat paths and a polytunnel, Eric grows a variety of root crops, brassicas, potatoes and flowers.

Halfway down is Ray Aplin's plot. Prospect Allotments' treasurer and a plot-holder for 30 years, Ray was born and bred in Swanage. He says: "Everybody co-operates with each other here, especially when somebody goes on holiday. Watering is a waste of time, though, once plants are established. It encourages roots to grow near the surface, so they dry out quickly in hot sun. Leave them to reach down for their own water. They'll grow much stronger."

Working one of the lowest plots is previous chairman and five-years' plot-holder Roy Scott. In his very tidy plot, Roy has an elegant pergola and grapevine providing shade over his relaxation area. He grows potatoes, brassicas, beans, lettuces, onions, strawberries and (with his wife, Janet, supervising pruning) lots of raspberries. I haven't tried his recommendation for freezing and microwaving strawberries yet, but I'm sure I will one day.

To Do in April

Erect frames for runner beans and sweet peas. Put up pea supports. Prepare ground for sowing and planting. Plant early potatoes, traditionally on Good Friday.

Top Tip for April

Plant seeds in seed trays in a greenhouse for planting out when it's warmer. Sow cabbage, sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower in nursery beds. Sow peas, carrots, radish and onions in open ground.

Top Plot Plants

Leeks: rake soil to fine tilth. Sow thinly in drills 6 inches apart and 1/2 inch deep. Sow now to mature in autumn, or mid-summer for harvesting next spring.


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