Are you green fingered?
I like to think I am. When I met my husband in 2006 I covered his patio in a wide variety of different pots filled to the brim with vegetables. The shelves in the porch became a jungle of tomato plants and every time something came to fruit. I would grab him excitedly and say “taste this, taste this, you can’t beat home grown”.
He was somehow unconvinced that I could produce fruit and veg any cheaper or better tasting than the local supermarkets and it became my mission to convert him to the grow your own lifestyle. After the first and second year of cropping, something must have clicked. In 2009 we changed one of our fields into an allotment for the local community and he can now be found saying to prospective tenants how wonderful home grown vegetables are. We started with 12 full size plots of 200sq metres and now have expanded to over 50 with people coming from up to 20 miles away.
Setting up the allotments has been a labour of love and a very steep learning curve. The National Society for Allotments and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG) has been fantastic in helping us to establish our allotments. We researched it thoroughly to find out what was available in the local area and even went to the planning office to discuss setting up the allotments. We actually taught them a thing or two – firstly on agricultural land no planning is needed for change of use as allotments come under agriculture. Councils are also obliged to provide new allotments if they have 7 or more people in one area on their list. Unfortunately most council’s way of providing new allotments is to halve plot sizes. That is something we don’t do here on Blackadon Farm!
I’ve recently conducted an annual inspection of the plots and I’m really pleased with how they are looking. It’s taken everyone a lot of hard work and dedication but those who have stayed beyond a year have been rewarded with an abundance of growing fruit and veg. The strawberries have done amazingly well and there is a good lot of artichokes, carrots, courgettes, and fruit bushes on each plot. It takes perhaps two years to get a plot well established with working out what works and where and for areas to fill in with plants. We have a well-run allotment association who have set up a community plot where they can host fund raising events and BBQ’s.
They raise money to provide communal equipment such as a strimmer and tools, and their next plan is to raise enough funds to provide a poly tunnel for everyone to share and increase their growing season! And it’s not just allotments we provide for other people. I’ve worked hard on my own allotment on the farm. I have a keen interest in teaching my boys where their food comes from, and using it as a subtle way to try and get them to eat more fruit and veg. This year I’m very excited at having been able to grow my own mushrooms using one of the standard shop bought mushroom boxes. It took ages and a lot of moistening the compost down to get the mushrooms to come up but little white caps did finally peek through and make it into the kitchen! I also planted my potatoes in containers and this week the boys and I pulled the tops and tipped out the potatoes. It wasn’t an abundance but enough to provide us with potatoes for a while.
My boys were immensely proud of what they had grown, with my 4 year old disappearing with the pot. I found him scrubbing hard in the bathroom to clean them all off, drying with them with a towel and lovingly putting them in lines in a baking tray. They spent the night with him, put beside his bed so he could look at them whenever he wanted!! I have in the past had a competition with my husband on who can grow the most potatoes – him using the standard traditional method of rowing up a potato bed and me using containers or tyre towers. I’m pleased to say that I won.
Whilst farmers have perfected the mass planting of potatoes by the acre, they aren’t so great at small plots by hand! I’ve even been able to harvest some early potatoes that were forgotten from last year! I didn’t do very well with my chillies this year and my home grown tomatoes were a bit of a non starter so I cheated and bought small ones from the local discount shop and I have to say, they’ve done really well. I just need a good period of sunshine to ripen the tomatoes. Our strawberries have been a bit hit and miss here but luckily as we have allotments on our farm, I’ve been able to make use of the strawberry beds on the unlet plots. There is nothing tastier than a sun ripened fresh strawberry – and this is exactly what has got my 2 year old eating them.
The lettuces have grown well, the cucumbers are bushy but not producing anything yet and I’ve had two courgettes off my plants so far. The boys have had a fab time eating peas straight from the pods but my beans haven’t done so well. For our first year since the boys were born of really trying to produce our own, I am quite pleased with our efforts. Another favourite in my garden are my herbs. Every garden should have a good selection of herbs, not just as garnishes or flavouring but for their natural remedies. I’m a big believer in natural medicine and growing your own. I’ve sown some Calendula, or pot marigold which is incredibly good at making a healing balm for many different skin complaints – hopefully it will grow well as it takes a lot of them to make it.
So here’s to next time when I can hopefully update you on how the summer season went! For more information on allotments, please visit the National Society for Allotments and Leisure Gardeners at www.nsalg.org.uk
Till next time, my lovelies.x