We took on our fifth plot at the end of August 2005. We never started out expecting to garden five plots but our site was very overgrown and in danger of being closed so at that time it was typical for plot holders to have multiple plots.
Except for the first plot, which we first rented in the late 1980's and had been ploughed by the council (back then they even mowed all the vacant plots regularly too), all the plots were in a similar condition when we started them. Perennial weeds were above head height and the plots were littered with assorted debris mostly hidden amongst the undergrowth or buried below ground. Only when we took the final plot did we decide to keep a photographic record of our progress.
So we started off faced with this:
The fairly flat bit was what remained of a shed that had been partially removed by another plot holder leaving broken glass, pieces of foam and rotten wood behind. It previously looked like this.
The jungle of weeds included a large proportion of large docsk and bramble both of which had become firmly established.
The first task was to clear as much top growth as possible. This had to be done with due consideration of what type of material could be lurking amongst the undergrowth so it wasn't just a case of setting to with a strimmer - a pair of shears was the tool of choice,. I have already mentioned broken glass, we also found a supermarket trolley, a mystifying number of television aerials, a pathway made up of metal grids and a large piece of partially rotted carpet.
Gradually, by October we started to see daylight and piled up any rubbish that it was possible to burn, the rest went into a skip, (the council provided a skip back then).
Really we took the plot at the right time of year as we did lots of the clearing in the winter months when the weeds were not growing and we didn't have to keep on top of the other plots. We were also lucky that we didn't have a very wet winter so digging and removing weeds started in January 2006. We hoped that the winter frosts would help break down the clumps of heavy soil.
Clearing continued into February and a rotavator was used to help break up the clumps.
A section at the end of the plot was very rough and so this was left for the moment
The weeds in the unplanted half of the plot were kept under control with a non-persistent weedkiller and more crops were planted in the half we had cleared. Having not been cultivated for quite a few years the soil was really fertile and things grew really well. We had never grown such huge cabbages.
Once the 2006 growing season was over we tackled the remaining half of the plot which was then fully planted up in the 2007 season. The grass was allowed to grow on the paths and frequent mowing meant that it gradually looked more like a lawn that an area that we just hadn't weeded.
In 2008 it looked like this.
If we could clear such a badly overgrown plot and still maintain four other plots with only time to spare at the weekends then anyone can. You just need to be systematic and be prepared for some hard work. No-one ever said it was going to be easy but think of it this way - you won't need to go to the gym!
If you are interested the following is a video of the plot (about 4 minutes long) as the plot looks now.