Sunday, 22 May 2011

Allotment philosophy and Mexican spinach

There are a lot of allotments that look the same on our site so I'm always interested in those that stand out.

One neighbour tells me he's practising Wu Wei, on his patch which, he explains, is loosely the art of doing nothing in order to make things happen - action without action. I'm dubious at first. A lot of people seem to be practising Wu Wei on the allotment, they just haven't been around for months so I can't ask how it's working out from them.

His plot looks a mess but, he explains, the rotation has been planned for years, which couldn't be more different from mine. On my plot seeds go in as soon as a new patch is cultivated: no spread sheets, just going on memory. Not a great method.

Over on the Wu Wei patch a single Munchen Bier radish has been allowed to grow into a four foot bush. It's growing pods which, according to the plot holder, can be eaten as a snack. A sack of goat manure has been left to rot for a couple of years, sitting in exactly the same place where it'll (eventually) enrich the soil. It doesn't look pretty but it saves dragging it around.

Chives with purple pom pom flowers have reseeded themselves as has the fennel, with plumes like bronze ostrich feathers. The no-dig bed, which hasn't been dug for four years, is deep and still pretty soft given the dry weather... soft like stale breadcrumbs.

Recently a few people have been furiously grinding the soil on their plots with mini-rotovators, sand-blasting small patches of dried out earth for minutes on end until it's a fine tilth before slowly moving onto the next square. It's effective but hard work - the Wu method is the opposite of this.

Taosim isn't for every gardener but as it happens I've been practising Wu Wei on my plot without even realising it. Who'd have thought? I bought a sachet of Mexican Tree Spinach from the Chelsea Flower Show last year and planted a neatly regimented row in a 4ft x 8ft raised bed far too late in the season. Only three seeds really took off. I left them to get on with it. This year they've reseeded themselves - a fetching carpet of green shoots, spray-painted fluro-pink in the centre.

Leaving things to their own devices can sometimes work far better than forcing them. I'm not quite ready for an actionless allotment just yet so I think I'll do nothing about it... and then see what happens.

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