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21.05.17 / A year living social trends: Gardening – why I allotment

This month we’re exploring the growing interest in gardening, and as such, I thought I’d share my personal experience.

The story of my allotment

I took possession of my allotment five years ago. Took possession misleads one to the basis of it – I pay £25 a year ( a princely sum) to rent it from Wallingford town council. You can read about the history of UK allotments here.

I’ve always loved the outdoors, and found living in London challenging. For all the benefits of one of the world’s great cities, it feels unnatural (literally and metaphorically) to me. I and my wife moved to Oxfordshire, and got a garden (at last). Not only did I love cultivating this to be an aesthetically pleasing space (flowers etc), but I began to grow some vegetables in containers. But I wanted more – more veg, more scale, more challenge.

The allotment was the solution. The dream of self-sufficiency within my grasp. Only weeds shoulder-height (and I’m 6ft+), and neglect of the plot stood between me and gardening glory. That and teaching myself about gardening.

What do I do with my allotment?

Well, at the size of a five-a-side football pitch, the horticultural world was my oyster. The first year was really just about weed removal. These days there is a semblance of control, with about a third of the plot (rotating) deliberately unkept at any point in time.

I grow a combination of summer and winter vegetables, and try to be broadly organic, which presents challenges as I don’t have the time to do the weed and pest control manually that requires. The limited time I can devote to it also influences some plant choices – I favour things which require relatively little direct intervention, and if they can suppress weeds (like potatoes), even better.

The output is decent: we have enough potatoes to last us eight months of the year (and I’m greedy), and likewise onions, for example. Soft fruits are there (gooseberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries) but they are relatively space ineffective for their yield across the year as a whole. There are some personal favourites which, as I’ve learned with time, I’m increasing or decreasing. For example, this year marks the end of my efforts with asparagus (much as I love it, the 11 months of weeding and large ground required vs the one month of yield just isn’t worth it), whereas rhubarb continues to occupy ever greater areas of my heart and land, with its flavour, lack of attention needed, and long cropping period.

My family have mixed feelings. My wife enjoys the outcomes (i.e. the veg) but is less keen on the time it takes or the somewhat spartan appearance. My 18 month old son, however, is a devotee, enjoying the freedom to roll in mud, dig at will, and be occasionally helpful planting onion bulbs, bean plants or dig out weeds.

Overall, I spend somewhere around 3 hours a week on it. I think 8 hours a week consistently across a two year block would see me reach allotment perfection.

Why do I have an allotment?

So, why do I have an allotment, a seemingly incongruous choice for (vaguely) young man who otherwise lives and breathes the internet?

Principally:

  • Health /environment – regardless of one’s exact interpretation of science, eating more vegetables one has grown one’s self is undoubtedly good for you
  • Taste – simply put, food you’ve grown yourself tastes better. That’s a combination of the psychosomatic effect of growing it one’s self, the freshness when picked ‘to order’, and varieties one wouldn’t be able to buy which may be poor commercially, but great in flavour terms.
  • Switch off – there’s no screen when you’re gardening, which has a positive effect (every so often) on my well being
  • Pace – you can’t (within reason) rush plants. They grow with the seasons. That’s a useful lesson for a firmly ‘type-A’ individual.
  • Connection with past – I have keen gardeners on both side of my parental line, but also our shared past – an understanding of what truly happens to feed us all.
  • Cost saving – now this is variable, and certainly isn’t the main objective, but it’s undoubtedly true one can save money. My choices aren’t geared around this – my potatoes won’t save me much money, although my rhubarb saves me significant amounts, as do my tomatoes. But it’s definitely there.

Am I alone?

One thing I’ve been surprised about is others’ surprise. Allotments, let alone gardening are perceived as somewhat antiquated. Certainly not for millennials (I just scrape the technical definition, if not the pejorative definition). But, whenever I talk about it, people start to express their shared enthusiasm, or desire for similar. It validates our research. But yet it rarely gets the acknowledgement by brands it metrics. I’d argue it’s the single most-effective way to engage me in content, for example.

We need more allotments – physically and emotionally, in my view.

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