A Visit to the Kerrowkneale Allotment
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit another of the Isle of Man’s allotments last week and made sure that I had my camera along to capture the experience. Kerrowkneale, situated in Jurby, is probably the most remote of the island’s allotments and is unique in that it’s founded on the Permaculture principles of ‘Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares’. I’m looking forward to learning more about how Permaculture works at the class being held next month but these three tenants are the basis for living more sustainable lives fair to both the environment and to people.
You might have already heard of Kerrowkneale since it was in the news back in 2009. The allotment received a decent sized grant which was then used to construct a shed and wind turbine that people at the allotment can use to charge up electric strimmers, movers and hedge trimmers. It’s a wonderful amenity to have especially considering the rural setting and near-constant wind – though it was only slightly breezy while I was there the turbine was spinning furiously.
Many allotments in the British Isles feature individual sheds and greenhouses on every plot and a couple of our island’s sites still allow them. However most of us new allotments have to contend with very hesitant planning officers who prefer to give permission to build communal facilities rather than individual. Like our allotment at LALAA, plot holders at Kerrowkneale make do with building simple structures such as cold-frames and raised beds which don’t require planning permission to put in.
The exception at Kerrowkneale is the presence of a good sized polytunnel – though I didn’t catch whether it was used solely by the Permaculture and Native Oak groups or if it was a communal facility. I couldn’t believe how warm and cosy it was inside, even though a bottom panel of the structure was mesh and so open to the air outside. It’s sometimes a struggle to grow anything tender this far north and it got me to dreaming of having one of my own someday.
Another feature that I’m looking forward to having myself are chickens – in fact this allotment hosts two lots of laying hens that are housed in separate chicken tractors (arks). Though we’re building a chicken run at home I can definitely see the appeal of having smaller and more mobile chicken quarters, especially if you’ve got the land to move it around. The more green grass and bugs your chickens have access to, the healthier they and their eggs will be. It was quite exciting that three eggs were collected while I was there and one hen even managed to pee on me while I held her. Not a big deal but I was glad I was wearing a sweater that I could pull off for the ride home.
The Kerrowkneale allotment looks much like any other in Britain with potatoes exploding out of muck heaps, rhubarb in every corner and plots both tidy and overgrown. The twisting pathway that runs through the site is filled with lush knee-high grass and very now and again you come across an old seat or bench where you can sit at and ponder the meaning of life…or the struggle of man versus slug. It’s a bit of an adventure to make your way through but the reward is finding some really ingenious gardening and upcycling ideas that can be implemented in any garden.
One of the biggest challenges at the site seems to be the sandy soil. At LALAA we have mainly dense, wet, clay soil that’s rich in nutrients but can be clumpy and slow to warm up in the spring. Kerrowkneale has what it seems is the opposite with well drained sandy soil that’s a bit lower in humus. The allotment is run with organic gardening standards though and it seems that nearly everyone has been adding farmyard manure to their land over the years. In truth a lot of plots have really lovely looking soil that I’d be happy to swap for given the chance.
Some people have taken the principle of manuring to a whole new level with literally building enclosures and filling them up with the stuff. Potatoes in particular really love growing in well rotted manure and you could see that the gardener who built beds in this manner kept that in mind. Once potatoes have gone in the first season then the beds can be turned over to other crops over a succession of years before it needs to be filled with manure again.
Another idea I quite liked was using large water jugs as cloches. I saw quite a few of them being used and saw some really decent looking courgette and pumpkin plants living inside. The cloches work like mini greenhouses and once the plants are big enough they’ll be gradually removed. I wonder where I can get a few of them myself…
On my walk I came across a structure that I’ve never seen before and I really wish the plot holder of that space were around at the time. It seems to be a low meshed-in enclosure that you’d expect to find strawberries growing in. Instead I saw a few rows of what appeared to be Brussels sprouts – complete with collars guarding against cabbage root fly. I can only guess that the cage was originally intended for strawberries and they’ve just decided to grow brassicas in them for this year. The roofs of the enclosures will probably come off once the plants grow a bit larger.
Another unique construction was a handmade wooden fruit cage. Inside was planted a tree, and I think a few small berry bushes in addition to some tomatoes. If I ever decide to have a fruit cage myself I’ll definitely be directing the Hubster to this type of construction since it seems as straight forward to build as our chicken run.
Kerrowkneale has plots available from time to time and while they’re free of rent, you are asked to help contribute for water bills and practical help to keep the allotment going. If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more, please contact Amanda Griffin at amanda.griffin.35574 at facebook dot com. Amanda is also the coordinator for the Permaculture class on July 20-21st so get in touch if you’re interested in attending.
Also, I can recommend the blog of a fellow allotmenteer who has a plot at Kerrowkneale. Fiona uses her blog to record the transformation of a derelict plot to one both fruitful and full of gardening experimentation. Do pay her a visit at Allotment at Native Oak if you want to see more of what’s growing in Jurby.