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bottom gate and was overgrown with ash and brambles. Infact the council gave us it rent free for the first year because it had been derelict for nearly 20 years!

We set about clearing parts of the area laying swales (a posh word for ditches) using an A-frame - a simple device that measures the contours of the land. Because the allotment is on such a slope we did this to stop our soil being washed away to the bottom of the site where the nettles grew lush amongst the rubble. We've also terraced some of the beds where we grow the more conventional crops to stop soil erosion. Not that there was much soil to stop being eroded when we first started! One of our regular and more exhausting jobs has been the carrying of heavy bags of compost and manure up the slope to try and improve the ground until slowly the worms are coming back...

Over time as friends drifted away we decided to put the project on a firmer footing - we started to have our regular `open to everyone - no gardening experience necessary' workdays, became a charity and started to put on regular events.

We've now got 7 plots where you will find us doing everything from organic gardening, forest gardening, wildlife gardening and - the thing that gets people talking - outlawed vegetable gardening. Infact this isn't your normal allotment site - there's no corrugated iron, we've left areas for wildlife to hang out in, and other bits uncultivated so we can picnic, sunbathe and bake potatoes in the fire.

As Sheila points out "If my father saw our allotments he would have had a fit! The allotments they worked on had been so intensively cultivated for such a long time the weeds didn't come up like they do here!"

Ah, yes the weeds. There used to be an old fellow called Ernie who'd come up with his dog Chips to work on his plot. He'd be pulling up `weeds' on his piece of land, and we'd be planting the same `weeds' on ours! Which brings to mind an old gardening proverb "a weed is just a plant in the wrong place."

Before any plant makes its way to our compost bins we try and identify it - amazingly we've found that nearly 95% of plants on site have some use for us - the so-called weed might be left alone because it's the food plant of a butterfly. It might be put in some hot water and drunk as a herbal tea. It might be used as a medicine or stuck in a salad. A lot of our salads contain plants which most people would call "weeds." In one record harvest we counted 26 different plants on our plate - a stark contrast to the usual tomato, cucumber and lettuce most people dish up! And as for people's reactions when you serve them up a salad full of flowers...

   

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