As I write this on a cold and wet January day, the prospect of Spring and Summer seem very far off. But, if you have an allotment or garden, this is the time to start planning for the coming months. March and April are the key time for starting seeds off in order to get a bumper harvest in late-Summer and Autumn. Sitting with seed catalogues is one of life’s simple pleasures on dark Winter evenings. As well as looking forwards, it’s good to reflect on the previous growing season. In this post I want to write about the past twelve months on our allotment and the positive contribution it made to family life.
1) Better understanding of food production
If there’s one thing having an allotment teaches you is how hard food production is. There are so many things working against you, pests, weather and poor soil. You feel really proud if you can manage to get a decent crop of anything. We’re so used to walking into any supermarket and filling our trolleys with washed and packaged food that we underestimate our global and domestic food producers. They produce field after field of fresh produce for us to consume.
Anyone who has read my wonky parsnips post will know how hard it was for us to grow a handful of this particular veg…let alone tonnes of the things. Since having our plot, I have a new found respect for farmers and the less than 'perfect' veg we waste every year. We want our daughter to feel connected to at least some of the food she eats. That’s why having an allotment is great. Last year our potatoes were hands down the best thing we grew. We were eating fresh spuds for at least three months. Yes, it’s hard work and sometimes you just want to throw in the towel and head off to the shops to buy fruit and veg. But when you can succeed in making something grow it’s amazing. Watching Magoo’s face as we dug up handfuls of golden new potatoes makes all the hard work worthwhile.
2) Health and Wellbeing
Technically speaking the plot belongs to my Mum. But it is a lot of work for one person and she was struggling to maintain the soil and plants. One of the main reasons we started to help on the allotment was because my husband thought it would be ‘good exercise’. He started to dig over the plot in February and March of last year and it was probably the hardest workout he’d ever done.
Not only is it great for your fitness, it’s good for your mental health. Over time it became more than just a green-gym, it became a sanctuary for us as a family. We love walking off the main road and into the tranquillity of the allotment site. You can hear birds singing, admire other people’s plots and watch the seasons change. Recently I blogged about the bench we installed on our plot. The wooden seat has a strong personal connection for me and the addition of the bench has created a lovely place to sit down and unwind.
3) Nurturing and patience
In a world obsessed with instant gratification, maintaining an allotment is the complete opposite of this. In a face paced world, tending a plot teaches us about the slow process behind growing our food. Plants have to be nurtured and cared for. From the very beginning Magoo loved to water the plants on our plot. Although we all watered, in her eyes she was the ‘Chief Waterer’. She took an active role in caring for our crops and it made the act of harvesting even more rewarding for her.
4) Fresh produce with low food miles
When the allotment is in peak production phase we sometimes eat meals that have come entirely from our plot and back garden. As I said above, we didn’t buy potatoes from a shop for over three months. We’re a long way off being self-sufficient, but the allotment supplements our weekly shop. If we can reduce the amount of food that has to be transported to us, then that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. As the National Allotment Society say: “no longer will you be talking about food miles, but instead food metres”. Apart from low food miles, fresh produce tastes better. We eat strawberries and sugarsnap peas straight from the plant. Our plates are filled with potatoes and beans that were in the ground less than an hour ago. Harvesting delicious, fresh food is simply the best part of having an allotment.
5) Part of a community
We are all guilty of living insular lives. Sitting in the bubble of living rooms, driving in our cars or using public transport with headphones on experiencing the world through tablets and screens. In my opinion, allotments are one of last true community spaces we have. They are open to all, affordable and act as a green space in urban environments. On our allotment we see young families, retirees and adults with learning disabilities working with the Brandon Trust. Over the past twelve months, Magoo has experienced being in a community space with other people working around us. Most people say ‘hello’ as you walk by, others stop for a longer chat to pass on tips or advice and our neighbours often pass on surplus produce. Last year a newcomer to the allotment built an amazing chicken coop with upcycled materials and filled it with hens. I think one of my favourite photos from the past twelve months is this shot of Magoo holding an egg given to her by the plot holder. She was so protective of it, like it was a precious treat, rather than something that comes out of a box. Again it taught her more about where food comes from. It also shows Magoo how sharing resources is still important in our society.
These are ways I think an allotment can help to make family life better. But, there are many more I haven’t mentioned: camaraderie, biodiversity, socialisation, upcycling, thriftiness and creating havens for bees…to name just a few…
You don’t just have to take my word for it. Have a read of this piece by the National Allotment Society to see their take on the benefits of allotments.
This week I am linking up with these lovely blogs:
"How Does Your Garden Grow" over on mammasaurus.co.uk
"Made for Kids" over on www.theresourcefulmama.com
"Magic Moments" over on theoliversmadhouse.co.uk
"Let Kids Be Kids" over on letkidsbekids.co.uk
"Country Kids" over on www.coombemill.com
"Whatever the Weather" over on monkeyandmouse.co.uk and www.lifeunexpected.co.uk
"Happy Days Linky" over on www.whatkatysaid.com and www.quitefranklyshesaid.com
"Share With Me" over on www.letstalkmommy.com