Saturday, 23 August 2014

Allotment - why


It's hard work, allotmenting.  Really hard work.  Very little of it involves floating round in a pretty summer dress and sandals picking perfectly ripe raspberries or sitting on a bench in the shade sipping homemade blackcurrant cordial and watching the butterflies.  A lot of it involves sweat, actual pain and a never-ending battle with bindweed.


Several of the plots at the site I'm on have been taken over, only to be left, still neglected, until the plotholder is thrown out for not tending their patch.  One plot was visited only twice.  Another one, near mine, which is particularly thick with couch grass, had a 2' x 2' square cleared, and a single potato was planted.  The next time the plotholder came, the couch grass had reclaimed the square and the solitary potato was never seen again.


Ownership of an allotment should not be undertaken lightly or ill-advisedly.  It needn't take over your life, but it does have to become a regular part of it.  The bottom line is, hours of your time are needed.  Hard and dirty work will be required.  On occasion it will hurt.  So why would anyone knock themselves out growing their own food, a good proportion of which will be consumed by slugs, pigeons, rabbits and more insects that you thought possible, when for a small fee, Tesco will bring clean blemish free vegetables right to your door.


I know you'll have heard all of the arguments in favour of growing your own.  The health benefits of course, of fresh, chemical-free food.  Just the other day a study found up to 60% higher levels of antioxidants in organic food.*

Then there's the lower environmental impact.  With no chemicals, no packaging and very few food miles involved in your own food, the footprint on the earth is barely a whisper.


The taste and texture of your own produce is often a revelation.  You can grow varieties that the supermarkets never stock, where the flavours are exquisite.  And you can grow things the supermarkets don't stock at all.  This year I have radish pods, sorrel leaves, wineberries and tayberries.  The more variety in my kitchen, the happier I am.


The allotment community is a big bonus too.  All sorts of interesting people have allotments.  By and large they are a friendly, helpful and encouraging bunch.  The children are happy to see their friends from school and around town there, and they've made new friends too.  They play, they help out, even if it's only a bit, they grow, and without even being aware of it, they learn.


But I want to add one more point to the list.  Something a little less tangible.  Allotments were created in the 1800s to allow people to feed themselves, following their exclusion from much of the common land, which was being divided up amongst wealthy landowners.  They were a necessity for those families back then.  Without their own plot of land for basic vegetables and a pig, life could have been pretty bleak and certainly emptier.  Today, few of us are starving, but in other ways we can find ourselves lacking the things that make life meaningful - quiet, reflective time, a chance to connect with nature and live in tune with the seasons, uninterrupted time with our children, gentle education for them and us and reassurance that despite whatever we may be going through, the rhythmic cycle of nature will keep rolling on.  Summer will always come again.


When I go to my allotment, I shut the gate behind me and I'm instantly in a different world.  That's not to say I don't dwell on problems while I'm weeding, I do of course, but down at the plot I see them in a different light.  I mentally work through them in this calm space and usually they shrink a little and assume more manageable proportions.


For me, the allotment gives so much more than food, it balances me in the midst of this complicated 21st century life we lead.  The real poverty now for many of us in the Western world is in our minds.  We need calm and quiet.  A place without electronic screens and beeps and full calendars and tight schedules.  While I'm there, I slow right down.  I might have to leave at 3 o'clock precisely, but while I'm at the plot there's no rushing.  It's a time for my soul to heave a blissful sigh.


So I'm here to tell you, despite the hard work, it's all worth it.  If you'd like to see the transformation of a plot, from a rubbish-strewn weed-infested wasteland to a beautiful and productive place, have a look here.  It's something I find  utterly inspiring.


*  Organic vs non-organic food - a study by Newcastle University, published 11 July 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition.

41 comments:

  1. I think it sounds wonderful and very much worth it.

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  2. What a very beautiful post CJ. You've put my thoughts into words much more thoughtfully and eloquently than I ever could. I really believe that part of the trouble for people today is we are too comfortable. Perhaps having to struggle a bit and feel real accomplishment would help more people feel connected--to each other and to the land and to our collective past. Thanks for this post, a reminder to keep on keepin' on!

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  3. I love hearing about your garden. I wish we would take the time to plant one.. we have 5 acres to do it on and we leave it fallow. We have the plans to make raised beds and even the cedar boards to do it.. but we haven't. Shame on us! Hopefully we'll get to it. Feel free to come plant a garden here if you'd like. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  4. This is so cool! My husband LOVES gardening and always grew up with his dad having a huge garden in their yard. We live in a condo now with just a cement patio, so he is really missing a garden. I'll have to see if there is something like this in our area!

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  5. What a wonderfully thoughtful post. I love song pixies from your allotment. Knowing why they exist makes even more special.

    We don't garden much, but we love the little we can do.

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    1. Okay, that was supposed to be SEEING PICTURES. Dang auto correct.

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    2. Lol I was thinking "song pixies ? Awesome, but I don't remember reading that bit ..... did I miss a bit ?!

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    3. Me too but I thought perhaps there are pixies at CJ's allotment and maybe they do sing as part of the magic there!

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    4. Thanks Dee, and I'm almost certain there are song pixies lurking down there somewhere. CJ xx

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    5. We have sing pixies disguised as blackbirds.

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  6. Thank you for sharing that new research with us! It was fantastic to read through and just pushes me harder towards growing more next year! Such awesome points you have about having a space to grow! I would agree with you on the point that slowing down is a huge part of growing your own. Making that connection with the earth and the food that you eat is invaluable. Beautiful work and photos friend! This post could teach the world a lot! Happy weekend you! Nicole xoxo

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  7. What a great post, love the pictures :) That getting away from it, sorting things out mentally, and clearing your head, is why I love running. And it probably hurts as much as allotment-ing too.

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  8. What a beautifully written post! I remember our allotmenteering years and you have put into words far more eloquent than I ever could just my thoughts too. When I used to come home tired and dirty and occasionally dispondent about the mamoth task we'd taken on our Wanderer then aged 10 or 11 used to ask why we didn't get our veggies from Sainsbury like everone else! We even used to take our 3 hens to ours for a Sunday afternoon scratch about - we didn't dare to leave them there though. Happy days.

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  9. The bit about people taking a plot on and then being suddenly aware that it isn't all Mary Poppins struck a note - it happens so often.

    By the way how big do your wineberries grow - ours are tiny.

    I followed the link to see the plot being transformed from a sump and laughed when I realised iy was ours - thanks for the mention.

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    1. You're welcome Sue, I loved that post so much, especially the video at the end. The wineberries are quite small as you say. Nothing like the size of raspberries or tayberries.

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  10. Oh my goodness, that robin's egg blue shed with the apple tree and the nasturtiums. So wonderful. I would be relaxed there too. This makes me want to grow nasturtiums up into my apple tree this summer. Your photos are so beautiful:)

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  11. Its great that you have somewhere to go to clear your mind - especially with all of the things going on in your life right now! Running is what works for me. It is difficult enough that I can only focus on pretty much that, it is good for the mind too.

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  12. Beautiful post today and so informative. I love your reasons for having an allotment, I love that you can find peace there amongst the beautiful veggies and fruit. There are lots of things in life that are hard work, but are worth it in the end.
    Hugs,
    Meredith

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  13. Hi just popped over from Flightys Plot - really enjoyed this post - which just about says it all about growing your own food. I no longer have an allotment but grow as much as I can at home - but, you know what, it just isn't the same.

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  14. This is probably the best allotment blog post that I've seen in a very long time, along with excellent pictures.
    Both convey the worth of having an allotment and the quite priceless benefits, both tangible and less definable ones. There is a price of course being the hard work involved, but it's well worth the effort as you rightly say. Flighty xx

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    1. Thank you Flighty, that's a lovely comment, you've made my day. CJ xx

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  15. It's something to be proud of, worth all the work, when I became ill, I had to give up mine and I really miss it, just a few tomoto's in the garden this year but it counts
    Clare x

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  16. I've been in awe of your garden and allotment CJ, since I came across your blog. I have taken the inspiration and used a tiny square of garden to produce a few things and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. It does give me time to clear my mind and , unlike flower gardening which I can't get the hang of, it seems easier as it's more structured - things in neat rows is my kind of gardening! Thank you.

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  17. You are right, it is a lot of work and I find it very sad when people take on a plot and then abandon it. I think however that councils could do a lot more to encourage new plot holders, if each plot were cleared of weeds before the new person took over and rotovated then that would be a huge amount already done and they would be far more likely to get on and grow things, even if they planted hundreds of potatoes or flowers in their first year it would be something and would help the land to get going and to encourage the plot holder. The benefits of any sort of gardening and growing, at home or at an allotment, are so good for the mind and body though, so they definitely outweigh any difficulties when you get stuck in. xx

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  18. beautiful post and photos, cosmos dancing in the wind are one of my favorite sights

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  19. What a wonderful posting! and well said! Too many people nowadays seem to be lazy about everything especially if it needs effort. I'm lucky enough to have a big garden in which I can have a veggie patch. My sister and friend both have an allotment and it amazes me how much they grow on it.

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  20. I have enjoyed your photos CJ and your post made enjoyable reading - thanks for sharing!
    Caz xx

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  21. I agree. If you have the time (and skill! -- you should watch me kill all things potted!) to tend properly, it really seems the way to go. As you pointed out, it feeds so much more than just the body, eh? I think it's great to be connected to something from start to finish. That the beginning of things, is not just putting a seed in the ground, it's clearing the space. It's good for life perspective, it seems. I love your allotment posts. I love seeing how you get in there body and soul, and even get some supplemental help from your boys. You tend a lot in that plot, lady. All the best.

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  22. I love this post, CJ. I'm glad you've found a place to slow down and disconnect from the fast paced digital age. You're so right that it's necessary to take a break from computer screens and the rush of every day commitments to be in nature and breath in the fresh air. In this virtual world, I really enjoy making things with my hands, too. Feeling the weight of fabric and doing something with my hands other than typing on a keyboard. I hope you're having a lovely day, CJ:)

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  23. Great post CJ. I now know why I do it. Some fantastic allotment photos. A real surprise when I clicked on the here link and recognised the plot.

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  24. I suppose it has become trendy to have an allotment but unfortunately the skills and hard work are not commonly talked about in life style magazines, or in TV garden shows. I have wondered myself if I should apply for a plot but maybe I'll ask a friend if I can help him out for a year or so first, to learn enough to get going on my own. It is wonderful to have a place to slow down and enjoy a different pace of life. My own "oasis" for slowing down is where I can create with yarn or fabric. Enjoy the late summer in the allotment, may it bring plenty of produce. Cx

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  25. I love your enthusiasm for your allotment. Such beautiful photographs too. :-)

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  26. What a lovely post. I'm so glad your allotment give you so much in this busy world.

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  27. At allotment is a lot of hard work, as you say, but definitely worth it when you reap the rewards of all the work you've put in at the start of the season. It's still magical, after all these years, when I go down there to harvest and come home with such a variety of fresh food.

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  28. Brilliant post! We - that's the Mr and I - campaigned to get the derelict allotments here in the village back into use for all the reasons you give. And then we lost out on getting one ... long story but in a nutshell our campaign pissed off someone on the village council. Long may there be allotments and people with the desire and dedication to cultivate them.

    So pleased to read that the biggest boy is on the mend.

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  29. What a beautiful post :) I would love to have an allotment but there are none nearby so I am just content with my own small patch of the world.

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  30. Enjoyed reading your post. I find growing my own veg is the perfect way to take the stress out if a busy day at work. At a friends allotment I've seen many newbies who barely even dig a patch before giving up. A plot is hard work and not to be taken on lightly.

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  31. I really enjoyed this. Yes, it's hard work, without doubt, but you make it work and I can well understand how much calm and joy it brings you. Beautiful photos too!

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  32. what a wonderful post. I have a tiny vegetable plot in the garden instead of an allotment but I feel the same way about it xxx

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  33. I really enjoyed this CJ. It's beautifully written and made me want to go out and get my own allotment right now, even though you didn't present this in a way to try to tell anybody what they should do. "For me, the allotment gives so much more than food, it balances me in the midst of this complicated 21st century life we lead. The real poverty now for many of us in the Western world is in our minds." These lines really resonated with me. I never thought of poverty of the mind or soul, but really it is probably more common, especially in the western world. I know it might be cliché to say, but thank you so much for sharing this. It's truly inspiring. I'm going to share it with my friends too.

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